TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Hundreds of union workers rallied in Tulsa on Tuesday to support a regional pipeline construction project they say would create thousands of jobs and improve the economies of cities along the line's route.
Organizers of the rally backing Calgary-based TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline said the project would allow the U.S. to tap a key energy source in North America instead of sending its money overseas to import millions of barrels of oil every day.
"To me, we need to stop the transfer of wealth out of this country to OPEC," said Danny Hendrix, business manager for the Pipeliners Local 798, which is headquartered in Tulsa and has about 6,500 members across the country. "We get a barrel of oil from it, but we also get a barrel of problems."
The Keystone XL Pipeline would transport oil from tar sands in Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. But the project has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups that argue the 1,700-mile line is a natural disaster waiting to happen and, if a section were to leak, could threaten the drinking water supply for millions of people.
"We believe in the American spirit, grit and resiliency to transition to a clean energy economy that brings good jobs and does not risk our water and homes," said Jane Kleeb, a member of the All Risk, No Reward Coalition, which opposes the project. "The union leaders rallying today are siding with a foreign corporation, using foreign steel and exporting the energy to foreign countries.
"The only economy this helps is foreign oil corporations who don't care about the risks on our land and water," Kleeb said Tuesday.
David Barnett, special representative with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, said he agreed with environmentalists' safety concerns, but added that the Keystone XL would be "the most state of the art pipeline ever built."
President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline last year. Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces, beginning construction on the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, which didn't need presidential approval because it won't cross an international border.