Oil industry makes economic pitch for Keystone XL pipeline to Gulf

The oil industry is hoping support from organized labor — and the promise of 20,000 construction jobs — will help convince the Obama administration to sign off on a pipeline that would transport crude oil harvested in Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Industry leaders teamed up with organized labor today to tout the projected economic benefits of the project, which is fiercely opposed by environmental advocates.

“With the U.S. economy still struggling, nothing is more important than jobs, and construction of the pipeline would mean massive numbers of them,” said American Petroleum Institute Refining Issues Manager Cindy Schild in a conference call with reporters.

One analysis projects that 20,000 workers would be hired to construct TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, if it wins the administration’s approval later this year.

James Kimball, chief economist for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the project would be a boon for construction workers.

“This project means jobs — and jobs for our members,” Kimball told reporters. “We think that big construction projects (and) infrastructure projects such as this project and others are a fast and good way to put a large number of people to work quickly. This project will put approximately 1,300 to 1,500 new teamsters to work on the pipeline.”

TransCanada has signed agreements with four international unions to use their workforce for the construction of the 1,600-mile pipeline.

Organized labor’s support for the project was credited with boosting congressional support for legislation that would force the Obama administration to make its final decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1. That bill passed the House last month with bipartisan support, but it is not likely to advance in the Senate.

The State Department is expected to release a final environmental analysis of the proposed pipeline by the end of the month, a move that will kick off a 90-day period when federal agencies evaluate whether the project is in the “national interest.”

Environmentalists are set to mount protests at the White House this weekend, in advance of the decision. They also are expected to make their arguments in public meetings that will take place in Port Arthur, Texas and at least six other states in September.

API’s Schild said union representatives who support Keystone XL may attend the public meetings too — providing a foil to the environmental criticism.

As organized labor has gotten more involved, the issue pits two traditional Democratic allies — unions and environmentalists — against each other.

Environmentalists say the State Department’s review of the project has been rushed and overly simplistic — without enough attention to what damage could be caused by spills and how the project may hurt the American burying beetle, the endangered whooping crane and other animals in the pipeline’s path.

Environmentalists also worry the pipeline would expand the marketplace for diluted bitumen and synthetic crudes produced from Alberta’s oil sands with greenhouse gas emissions that can be 40 percent more than those of conventional oil. Although oil companies are increasingly using less-invasive in situ techniques to extract the tar-like hydrocarbon bitumen from deeply buried oil sands, it has traditionally been removed through open pit mining that conservationists say has ravaged Alberta’s boreal forest.