Just as House Republicans introduce their newest stunt aimed at pressuring President Barack Obama into making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a former TransCanada whistleblower has penned a scathing op-ed warning readers that the company has a track record of sacrificing quality at the expense of the environment, a pattern he predicted will be reflected in the construction of the controversial new pipeline.
In a column published by The Lincoln Journal Star, Mike Klink, a former civil engineer and inspector for Bechtel -- one of the major contractors employed during the construction of TransCanada's first Keystone pipeline -- wrote that TransCanada's ultimate focus is money, not safety, explaining that he had an uncomfortable front-row seat to the disaster Keystone XL could potentially have on the U.S. environment.
Despite its boosters' advertising, this project is not about jobs or energy security. It is about money. And whenever my former employer Bechtel, working on behalf of TransCanada, had to choose between safety and saving money, they chose to save money, Klink wrote, adding that he witnessed the use of cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests and a surplus of other seemingly unethical safety hazards.
Klink, who is reportedly seeking whistleblower protection from the U.S. Department of Labor, says he shared his safety concerns with his bosses on multiple occasions, who then passed them on to the higher-ups at TransCanada. Eventually, Klink said his pestering over questionable safety practices led to the loss of his job.
When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job -- but people along the Keystone XL pathway have a lot more to lose if this project moves forward with the same shoddy work, Klink wrote. Let's be clear -- I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn't build pipelines. We just should not build this one.
The first Keystone pipeline, which runs from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois, experienced 12 different oil spills during its first year of operation between 2010 and 2011. The most extensive spill occurred in North Dakota last May, when 21,000 gallons of crude tar sands leaked from the pipeline, leading to a temporary shutdown of the $5.2 billion commodity.
Despite the concerns surrounding the first pipeline, in August TransCanada executives said the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest crude oil pipeline built in America.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not share TransCanada's confidence. In July, the agency issued a response to a draft Environmental Impact Statement compiled by the State Department, writing that while it appreciated the department's effort, the draft did not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public. According to the EPA, the draft did not contain sufficient information about everything from the purpose and need for the project, potential greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions, pipeline safety and spill response plans, as well as potential environmental impacts to environmental justice communities, wetlands and migratory birds.
Environmentalists have shunned the project, holding demonstrations in front of the White House in August and September that led to thousands of arrests. Although those in favor of the Keystone XL argue it will create American jobs and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil sources, a 2008 TransCanada Presidential Permit application for the project to the State Department reportedly indicated the project would require a peak work force of 3,500 to 4,200 construction personnel, Tar Sands Action reports.
Although the Obama administration called for a review of alternative pipeline routes in order to push the final verdict on the pipeline until after the 2012 election, in December congressional Republicans attached a provision to the payroll tax cut legislation requiring the administration to make a decision within 60 days.
Earlier this month, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said on Twitter that the Keystone provision simply shortens the review process in a way that virtually guarantees that the pipeline will NOT be approved.
On Wednesday, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled a countdown clock on the committee's Web site to literally track the days, hours, minutes and seconds Obama has to make to decision. As of Wednesday, the president has 12 days left.