A Little Rock manufacturer that has laid off workers and stacked up miles of pipe originally expected to connect major sections of the $8 billion Keystone Pipeline project now cheers President Donald Trump’s decision to bring the controversial transcontinental energy development back on line.
After only four days in the White House, President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise and signed an executive order Tuesday (Jan. 24) approving the restart of the so-called Keystone XL Pipeline, an 1,100-mile crude oil pipeline that connect oil production in Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
”We welcome President Trump’s decision to revive the Keystone XL pipeline,” Welspun Tubular spokesperson Naveen Soni, said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “This will result in creating jobs and will fulfill (sic) energy needs of the nation in addition to having a multiplier effect on the US economy. … As a pipe manufacturer in America, that is capable of executing large and complex projects, we remain committed to support and participate in the growth of American economy as envisaged under new President’s leadership.”
Trump’s action rolls back an executive order by former President Barack Obama in November that shut down the Keystone project after a lengthy review by the U.S. State Department. TransCanada, which is building the project, has said the pipeline project would create 9,000 construction jobs, and a State Department report said the project would support 42,000 direct and indirect jobs.
In Arkansas, the state’s congressional delegation and much of the business community has supported the Keystone pipeline, mainly because of Welspun’s role in building the pipeline that would deliver tar sands oil from the Hardisty, Alberta terminal in Canada through the Cushing, Okla., energy distribution hub to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.
Welspun, based in Mumbai, India, has a large pipe production operation in Little Rock. To date, the Indian company’s plant at the Little Rock Port has manufactured 700 miles of the 36-inch-diameter steel pipe needed to complete the multistate pipeline. In a video on the TransCanada website, Welspun officials say that more than 350 miles of pipe now lay idle at the Little Rock plant awaiting approval of the project.
Soni, vice president and head of corporate communications for the Indian pipeline giant, did not respond to questions on whether or not Welspun plans to hire additional workers or ramp up production in Little Rock to support the reinvigorated project. As last count, Welspun employed nearly 600 workers in Arkansas, according to the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Beside the Keystone project, President Trump’s executive memo also directed the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to expedite reviews and approvals for the remaining portions of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline designed to carry around 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to oil markets in the U.S.
That venture, which is just as controversial as the larger Keystone pipeline project, is more than 90% complete across its entire route and only a limited stretch of the project is not yet constructed. Republican congressional officials from Arkansas, U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., both were effusive in their praise of the new president to allow both controversial pipeline projects.
“In his first week on the job, President Trump is proving that he is serious about North American energy independence, job growth, and private infrastructure spending. Keystone has already produced over 600 jobs in central Arkansas and would create thousands of ready-to-launch private sector American jobs, while having a minimal impact on the environment,” Hill said in a statement. “These are the pro-growth decisions that the president promised the American people, and I will continue to work with him to support American energy and job growth.”
“I welcome the president’s decision to allow work on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to move forward. The fact that this was one of the first items on President Trump’s agenda speaks volumes about how his administration will prioritize job creation, energy infrastructure and economic opportunity,” Boozman said. “After years of needless delays and partisan obstruction from the previous administration, it is encouraging to see the president take immediate action that will benefit Americans and our economy.”
But Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said President Trump’s decision threatens U.S. waterway and sacred lands and ignores clean energy jobs. He said TransCanada will attempt to use eminent domain to sue American landowners and seize their private property. Hooks further expressed concerns about the decision to ship tar sands oil across the U.S. for export. Tar sands is a heavier and dirtier grade of crude oil that goes through a more extensive refining process for use as gasoline and other petroleum products. Tar sands oil was also spilled into Lake Convey after ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline ruptured in Mayflower nearly four years ago.
“After only four days, President Trump is already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be,” Hooks said. “These dangerous and dirty pipelines are an enormous threat to critical waterways and sacred lands.”
The Sierra Club and other environment groups have asked questions today about TransCanada $15 billion lawsuit against the U.S. under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump is looking to renegotiate. Hooks also noted that Trump has invested in Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Simply put, Donald Trump is exactly who we thought he is: a person who will sell off Americans’ property and tribal rights, clean air, and safe water to corporate polluters,” Hooks said.