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Michiganders learning the pipeline trade are watching the Senate XL vote

Nov 18, 2014

The U.S. Senate votes tonight on a bill to authorize the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved legislation to authorize the pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from the Canadian prairie to the Gulf of Mexico through the American heartland.   

Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute trains students in a variety of fields, including how to work on oil and natural gas pipelines.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

One group in Michigan is paying close attention to the vote.

“Corrosion is the archenemy of pipelines,” instructor James Rubel tells his students at the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute in Perry.  

Students can  also learn what they need to know about oil and gas pipelines at the institute's locations in Wayne and Iron Mountain.     

Institute director Lynn Coleman says they train thousands every year to work on oil and natural gas pipelines. He wants the federal government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. 

“Because it will put a lot of people to work,” says Coleman, “including some of our members from Michigan.”

The exact number of pipeline construction jobs that would be created varies widely. Keystone XL pipeline supporters talk about tens of thousands of jobs, while opponents suggest a few thousand jobs will be created by a two-year project. 

President Barack Obama threatens to block the project, over concerns about its potential environmental impact. Environmentalists fear the potential of a devastating pipeline break and massive oil spill. They also complain that Canadian tar sands oil burns dirtier than other oil.

But even if the Keystone XL pipeline remains tied up in government red tape, there are other projects in Michigan that students at the institute hope to work on, including a pair of proposed natural gas pipeline projects in southern Michigan that are making their way through the regulatory approval process.    

Keomie Williams of Flint has been working as a laborer, removing asbestos from homes for the past dozen years and he’s ready for change. 

He says there is longevity to a career as a pipeline worker. 

“We’ve been putting things off too long,” says Williams. “It’s time we get into what we’ve been putting off.”