While debate continues over whether the United States will approve a proposed oil conduit from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the segment from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast is halfway toward completion and could be transporting oil by year's end.
President Barack Obama traveled to Oklahoma nearly a year ago to tout construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from the Cushing oil hub to Houston-area refineries. A decision on whether to allow the longer pipeline awaits the results of a U.S. State Department review that is necessary because the oil would be carried across an international border.
Nearly 4,000 workers in Oklahoma and Texas are aligning and welding a 485-mile section, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said. “We're right at peak right now,” he said.
TransCanada applied for a federal permit almost five years ago, but its construction has been controversial. Environmentalists warn of potential spills and say extracting and using tar sands oil, which the pipeline would carry from Alberta, would worsen climate change. Unions and TransCanada say the project will bring thousands of jobs and bolster the U.S. oil supply from friends and neighbors.
Obama rejected the permit last year but left the door open for a retry that the State Department is considering. A decision could come by summer.
Because the Gulf Coast segment doesn't cross an international border, its approval process was simpler, and work began last August, Dodson said. When completed, the segment will carry 700,000 gallons of oil daily from the existing pipeline network centered around Cushing to the southern refineries.
About 850 laborers are at work in Oklahoma and 3,000 in Texas. Most are temporary contracts.
Pipeliners Local 798, a national union based in Tulsa, has about 250 of its members working on the pipeline's northern two-thirds, union business manager Danny Hendrix said. He estimated about half of those welders are from Oklahoma.
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