Hoosier engineer received word federal authorities dismissed his claim that he
was terminated from the pipeline project for raising safety concerns.
The rejections are not deterring either company's or the
whistleblower's plans to advance their respective agendas. For TransCanada this
means completion of the pipeline. For Michael Klink, a 59-year-old civil
engineer from Auburn, Ind., it means that the company will rectify his litany
of safety concerns. And, if possible, that he could once again work in the
field of pipeline inspection.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, if completed, will
stretch more than 2,000 miles from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to
refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Obama's Jan. 18 rejection was based on the notion that
officials need more time to evaluate the project's environmental impact.
TransCanada officials said the company would reapply for the permit for its XL
extension. And, in a statement
issued after the permit denial, officials added, "Plans are already
underway on a number of fronts to largely maintain the construction schedule of
In short, TransCanada said it would continue to work with
the State of Nebraska to reroute the pipeline around the Sand Hills, one of the
largest and most ecologically diverse wetland ecosystems in the United States.
When this process is complete, company spokesman Terry Cunha said the company
would re-file for the permit.
"The rest of the route has already been reviewed and
approved," Cunha said, adding that the company hopes that officials will
be able to expedite the approval process by using the data collected during the
past 40 months of project review.
The goal, he said, is to re-start construction by the first
quarter of 2013. According to a statement issued by TransCanada President and
Chief Executive Russ Girling
Girling, the company aims to have the pipeline in
service by the end of 2014.
TransCanada's Keystone pipeline, known as Keystone Phase One,
was finished in June 2010 and already carries tar sands oil across the border
to refineries in Illinois. In February 2011, Keystone Phase Two was finished,
which moves oil from Steele City, Neb. to Cushing, Okla.
It was during construction on the Phase One link of the
pipeline that Klink raised questions about the structural integrity of the
pipeline that, he claimed
claimed, led to retaliatory firing.
In March 2009, Klink began working as a civil inspector in
North Dakota for Bechtel Oil, Gas & Chemicals
Gas & Chemicals, one of the subcontractors TransCanada employed on
Keystone Phase One.
Klink discovered foundation problems at the Edinburg station
near the Canadian border. He says rebar material was built to the wrong
specifications and installed incorrectly, compromising the ability to support a
6,500-horsepower, high-voltage, multi-ton electric motor.
Then, without fixing the problem, he said TIC Wyoming, another contractor hired by
TransCanada, signed off on the work.
The miscommunication of duties between Bechtel and TIC
continued throughout his involvement in the project and TransCanada did not
alleviate the confusion, Klink said.
In an email Klink saved, a Bechtel employee had to ask
TransCanada to call TIC on behalf of Bechtel to tell TIC employees that when
Bechtel told them to stop work due to safety or quality they were to do so
Klink cited numerous occasions when TIC employees defied the
orders of Bechtel employees when quality and safety was a concern.
He said in some cases his quality-control concerns would be
addressed after he did some convincing in staff meetings. But, in other cases,
he said he experienced defiance from TIC employees and no support from
"I was continually harping at them," he said. "Sometimes
they would get frustrated and say, 'Go ahead and fix it.' It was to the point
that I was a problem because they didn't want to hear from me anymore. I voiced
my opinion over and over in those large meetings with supervisors."
TIC did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition to the concerns he personally raised, Klink said
interoffice emails show extensive cover-up measures construction crews went
through to prevent the mistakes from being seen by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Administration(PHMSA), the federal agency that deals with pipeline
In an email from PHMSA to Bechtel on Sept. 23, 2009, PHMSA
warned Bechtel that their representatives would be arriving in one week to
inspect the Roswell and Carpenter construction sites.
"Things were hurried and covered up and were put away
so PHMSA wouldn't see them," Klink said. "When the PHMSA inspectors
came, I was sent home because they didn't want me talking to them."
Bechtel instructed inspectors to leave all communications
with U.S. officials to their supervisor, Klink said. Not that it would have
mattered for him, the day Bechtel received PHMSA's
email was Klink's last day on the job.
Klink's assignment was terminated three months earlier than
he expected it to be. He claimed his repeated complaints led to his early
Hashing out the
Klink filed a complaint on March 22, 2010 with the U.S.
Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) under whistleblower provisions of
the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.
The company and officials with OSHA argue Klink was released
from the job because work on that portion of the project was winding down.
Michelle Michael, a spokesperson for Bechtel said, in an
emailed response to questions, that Klink's job was to raise any concerns about
contractors' performance and, when he did, his concerns were taken seriously
and appropriately addressed.
"As is common in the construction industry, assignments
end when a project phase is completed. This was the case with Mr. Klink,"
If that were the case, Klink countered, his position should
have been eliminated. Instead, he said was replaced by another civil inspector
out of Texas.
Since then, Klink said Bechtel has not offered him any more
assignments. His efforts to find new assignments within the company have been
In response to his blacklisting claim, OSHA found "insufficient
evidence to evaluate whether Respondent's failure to rehire Complainant was, in
fact, discriminatory," apparently satisfied with Bechtel's response that "providing
documentation on positions post-complaint was extremely voluminous and
In addition to the complaints of retaliation, Klink's
testimony to the DOL outlined environmental concerns.
He said he witnessed frozen chunks of earth and rock being
pushed on top of the pipe, gouging the coating where rust could start to form,
as well as poor compaction around the pipes, possibly allowing them to
"If the pipes would twist, that is when you have a
major disaster that would be like the Deepwater Horizon," Klink says. "That
is one where you will have an explosion. When the pipe snaps, you are going to
have flammables inside the tar sands oil that can spark and ignite it."
Klink also claimed the piping used was of cheap quality,
that it would split and crack when welded. He said the paperwork for each pipe
was written in Chinese.
"There were reports that would come with the pipe to
tell you when it was made, the steel content and more, and they gave it to us
in Chinese," he said. "Well, to tell the truth, my Mandarin is not
In an interview with the Omaha World Herald
Herald, Cunha responded to these claims by saying that all piping used on
the Keystone project is manufactured in North America and India.
Klink said he reported his concerns to Bechtel and
TransCanada during weekly telephone conferences.
"TransCanada [was] informed, heard about the problems
and elected to do nothing," he said.
Cunha rejected Klink's claims.
"We use multiple quality control and inspection
processes during the manufacturing and construction stages," he said via
email. "If a concern is raised we investigate immediately. If corrective
action is required, we act."
The company offered a more detailed rebuttal upon receiving
the news that OSHA had rejected Klink's claim, emphasizing the company's
commitment to safety:
"Other inspectors who raised issues during construction
continued to be employed by Bechtel. Other inspectors stopped work when it did
not meet specific standards, and continued to be employed by Bechtel. When
concerns were elevated to TransCanada, the company and its representatives
acted on those concerns and took appropriate action."
The statement later continued:
"There were approximately 800 inspectors hired to
oversee the safe construction of Keystone, in keeping with TransCanada's high
workplace standards and to ensure compliance with all applicable codes and
Business as Usual
What strikes pipeline proponents as odd with the uproar over
Keystone XL is that so much oil already crosses from Canada into the U.S. It
is, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
Energy Information Administration, the nation's No. 1crude oil supplier.
According to the EIA, as of last September, Canada shipped
more than 2.3 million barrels of crude oil to the U.S. each day. Saudi Arabia,
Mexico and Venezuela follow, respectively, as the next largest exporters of
crude oil to the states.
Between 2010-2035 U.S. refineries need for crude oil is
expected to decline by 7.8 percent as reliance on biofuels
and other non-petroleum liquid fuels increases, according to the EIA.
Some analysts suggest that diminishing supply in existing
oil fields and perennial conflict in oil-producing regions of the Middle East
and Africa will likely intensify efforts to develop a more stable supply for
the still considerable crude oil demand that remains.
And, pipeline proponents argue
proponents argue, if imports from Canadian pipelines to U.S. refineries are
slowed, the production capacity will be filled by other avenues – either
by rail or tanker, both methods with much spottier environmental records than
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar authored the North American Energy Security Act
Security Actthat passed Dec. 16, compelling the Obama Administration to
act on a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in 60 days.
After President Obama denied the extension, Lugar issued a news release.
"The studying time is done," Lugar said. "The
environmental concerns are addressed. The job creation, economic and energy
security arguments are overwhelmingly in favor of building it. The President
opposing pipeline construction is not in the best interest of the United
States. I pledge to continue to fight for job creation, increased national
security and economic prosperity for Indiana and the United States."
Gov. Mitch Daniels
Mitch Danielsalso supports the North American Energy Security Act.
His office did not respond to emails or phone calls, but he
did issue a statement following the permit denial.
"President Obama once again acted against middle class
jobs and again to protect foreign energy interests over the interests of
Americans," Daniels said. "With national unemployment over 8 percent,
a project that will create over 20,000 jobs and secure our nation's energy
future should be Washington's top priority."
Much debate is afoot about how many jobs the pipeline will
TransCanada offers a detailed breakdown of its
projection that the 17 pipeline segments planned to cross the U.S. would result
in 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs.
by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute estimated that, based on TransCanda's filings with U.S. State Department, the
Keystone XL project would generate "no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary
direct construction jobs."
And then there's Klink, who strongly feels that doing his
pipeline job may have cost him future employment opportunity.
He has been unemployed since 2009. He suspects bad
recommendations from Bechtel may be to blame. Now he works part time as
homeroom supervisor at Dekalb High School.
"Having owned my own business for over 20 years, I
never want to get into the politics of everything. I just wanted to be out in
the field where you can make a difference and make things happen," Klink said.
Klink said he did something other construction workers didn't
have the integrity to do. He publically spoke out against the Keystone Pipeline
"There were probably five of us that all complained
(internally) about problems," Klink said. "But to be honest, they
were just too fearful that they wouldn't have a job (if they spoke out) like I
have gone through. In a way, I can't blame them. My convictions were just a
little bit stronger than theirs. I'm standing up for those who can't stand up."
Klink's attorneys at the Washington D.C.-based firm Clifford & Garde
& Garde, well known for representing
whistleblowers, were unphased by the DOL/OSHA ruling.
"We were not surprised that DOL/OSHA did not find in
Mike Klink's favor and suspect it may have been difficult to find people who
would put their own jobs at risk to back him up," the firm's Sandy Shepard said in an email.
"We today (Jan. 19) filed an appeal of OSHA's decision
with the Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Department of Labor and
are requesting that his case be assigned to an ALJ and set for a hearing."
Klink wants to return to pipeline work. He is not an
activist or environmentalist, he said, but remains driven by his concerns that
the issues he witnessed while on the job will result in a larger, potentially
"It's not that I'm opposed to pipelines," Klink
says. "I'm opposed to this
pipeline. They have already built one (Keystone Phase One) and they've proven
they can't live up to their own quality standards. They (TransCanada) did the
design. They did the specifications and they can't even live up to what they
He is haunted by the fallout from
More than 1 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the
Kalamazoo River from a pipeline owned by Enbridge Liquids, another Canada-based
company. The spill, described as the largest oil spill in Midwest history, is
proving to be nearly impossible to clean up because of the carcinogenic
chemical benzene, which is also found in tar sands oil.
Benzene's acute toxicity
acute toxicitymakes it a hazard to workers doing the cleanup and to nearby
landowners. Bitumen, an ingredient in the tar sands oil similar to asphalt,
also is harder to clean up because the bitumen is heavier than water and sinks
into rivers and other water bodies. Conventional spill cleanup relies on
procedures that contain and skim oil on the top of the water. If significant
quantities of oil sink below the surface, it is much more difficult to recover,
as the Michigan cleanup has demonstrated.
"Don't say that a spill can't happen in our
neighborhood (the Midwest), because it has happened in Marshall," Klink
said. "Drive up there and look at the water, dead animals and what it has
done to the people there. A spill can happen anytime and anywhere."
TransCanada has reported 14 oil leaks at pipeline pumping
stations on Keystone Phase One.
In the U.S. State Department's final environmental impact
summarized the scope of the events: "Of those spills, 7 were 10 gallons or
less, 4 were 100 gallons or less, 2 were between 400 and 500 gallons, and 1 [Ludden] was 21,000 gallons."
The pump stations, which are large facilities on 5 to 10
acres of land along the route of the pipeline, increase the pressure of the
surging oil and send it shooting to the next station 50 miles away.
One incident happened on May 7, 2011, at the Ludden pump station in Brampton, N.D., where approximately
400 barrels of crude oil were released, according to PHMSA-issued corrective action order
Klink says he spoke with a farmer near the Ludden pump station who witnessed a 60-foot geyser of tar
sands oil spraying into the air.
A 10-barrel oil release May 29, 2011, at the Severance Pump
Station in Doniphan County, Kan., also resulted in a PHMSA request for corrective
Federal officials concluded that the spills reported by
TransCanada so far are "start-up issues that occur on pipelines and are
Mike's wife, Deb Klink, said that when she hears such
stories, she understands why her husband put his livelihood on the line.
"Mike told me after meeting the people in the area it
really broke his heart what was being done," she said. "His story had
made us all aware of the issues (with the Keystone pipeline) and we need to
stand up and do what we can."
Klink says he was motivated to share his story not only to
ensure a safe future for his kids, but also to stick up for people in
mid-America whose voices are not being heard.
"My kids give me a lot of credit for speaking up and
standing up for others. I can't teach them to do something and not do it
myself," he said.
His daughter, Kendra Klink, said she's proud to think her
dad risked his job to tell the truth.
"Your parents always tell you to do this or that and
you grow up thinking, 'Well, you do it,' " she said. "Then here is my
dad acting on what he has taught us. He is standing up for the little guy,
standing up for people that are being wronged and being their voice. He is able
to help these people and these farmers that were bullied into signing these
TransCanada agreements without the knowledge or facts of what exactly they were
"We just hope the right people listen," Deb Klink
Klink said that, while the pipeline is a "nightmare of
bad cover up decisions," he just wants people to look at the issue with
"I believe that if people would take the politics out
of it and look at the issue from a common sense point of view, they will see
that I am right," he said. "Another year or two will not make the
difference because that resource [tar sands oil] is still going to be there. I
just pray every night that our Congress will see the light."
If U.S. officials and TransCanada decide to build the
Keystone XL pipeline, he said he wants them to do the job right. He said he is
willing to be part of a review board with representatives from the federal
government to write new pipeline standards to ensure problems do not happen
"If people really think they are going to make money
off of this and they really think it is that important to build, then just do
it right," Klink said. "That is what is such a sad state of affairs.
If you are going to do it, do it right. Don't do it half-assed."