Oil pipeline an economic boon for Will County or environmental disaster?
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com September 19, 2011 8:00PM
Caterpillar equipment works in the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. | photo courtesy of Finning (Canada), a division of Finning International Inc., a Caterpillar equipment dealer
Updated: November 30, 2011 12:34AM
The Keystone XL pipeline, which has ignited a fierce national debate between environmentalists and the oil industry, could create jobs for Will County workers if it is built, an oil industry official says.
The pipeline would transport up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to Oklahoma and Texas.
The project’s route from Canada to the Gulf Coast comes no closer than Nebraska to Will County, but workers here could benefit if the 1,700-mile pipeline is built, said David Sykuta, executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council.
“We would get a huge jobs boom,” he said.
The $7 billion project could produce thousands of jobs for Will County and Illinois pipefitters, electricians, operating engineers and iron workers, Sykuta said.
“Pipefitters Local 597 in Mokena is the biggest local in the country with over 12,000 active members,” Sykuta said.
The distance to Nebraska would not be a deterrent, he added.
“All of these guys accept travel as a part of the job,” he said.
Getting more oil from Canada into the United States reduces our country’s reliance on oil from riskier suppliers in the Middle East and South America, he added.
Also, if the Keystone pipeline is approved, Canada would buy more mining equipment from Caterpillar Inc. Some of the company’s mining equipment components are made at the Joliet plant, and large mining trucks are manufactured in Decatur, said Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan.
“ … those trucks and other Caterpillar equipment can be found at work in the oil sands in Canada,” Dugan said.
That’s one example of how oil from Canada spurs the U.S. economy, Sykuta said. In contrast, oil from the Middle East does not have that economic ripple effect, he said.
“We give Saudi Arabia our money, and they give us oil and nothing else other than having to protect them with our Navy.”
While the pipeline makes sense to Sykuta and union workers who support it, environmentalists are vehemently opposed to it and have been protesting the project in recent weeks. Actress Daryl Hannah was among several people who were arrested last month during a protest outside the White House.
According to the Sierra Club, the pipeline would threaten the health and livelihoods of thousands of Americans and harm efforts to fight global warming.
“The oil that would be carried by this dangerous pipeline is the most environmentally destructive form of oil on the planet,” the group wrote in a letter opposing legislation that expedited the pipeline permitting process.
Members of Lockport-based Citizens Against Ruining the Environment also are concerned.
“Do you know this pipeline will be buried in the largest fresh water aquifer in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer, and that the word is now most of this oil will be shipped to other countries,” said CARE member Lorna Paisley. “What I cannot understand is why it is not refined in Canada or why they can not take a different route.”
CARE member Carol Stark is skeptical about the number of jobs the project would produce.
“We have learned from past experience that these companies stretch the truth when it comes to revealing the number of jobs created,” Stark said. “They start out with numbers in the thousands, or at the least hundreds, then eventually end up with a handful of full time jobs and some temporary construction jobs. We’ve been around long enough to know how that game is played.”
Stark said CARE doesn’t have an official position on Keystone.
“We do however have very major concerns over the lack of oversight on the antiquated pipelines in our area … This is an ongoing problem,” she said.
CARE member Ellen Rendulich agreed. She said recent pipeline leaks in Will County are a concern to both Will County officials and CARE members.
“If this is an indication of what’s ahead our future is bleak,” she said.
Also, Rendulich said extracting gas from oil sands, also called tar sands, produces more greenhouse gases and uses more water than conventional oil drilling methods.
Canadian oil in Will County
Sykuta disputes the criticisms. He said most people probably don’t realize that Illinois has been getting most of its oil from Canada for years now. Technology has made the extraction process less harmful to the environment, he added. In the past, the sand was simply dug from the ground, leaving pits. Now, a pipe is used on top of the sand to send steam through it. The oil then drips into another pipe and the ground isn’t gouged, he said.
Sykuta said pipelines create smaller environmental footprints when compared to moving oil by tankers. And using more oil from Canada also would “hurricane proof” the oil supply from the Gulf Coast area, which is mostly off-shore now, he said.
He also said leaks are rare and that the Keystone pipeline would be 1,000 feet above the aquifer.
Pipeline hearings will be held along the route in the coming weeks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would make a decision on the project by the end of November. She has to make the first decision since the pipeline crosses an international border, Sykuta said.
If she OKs the pipeline, many more regulatory permits would be needed before the project could move forward, he said.
A letter signed by Sykuta; state Rep. Patrick Verschoore; and Jim Buchanan, business manager for Pipefitters Local 597, was presented to President Barack Obama during his recent trip to western Illinois. The Keystone project would provide the “type of good-paying, skilled trades jobs” Obama’s tour was all about, the letter stated.
The letter urged Obama to support the project and focus his administration on “regulatory approval and prompt construction” of the pipeline.
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