Questions linger on Keystone XL


The day before President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's request to expand its Keystone pipeline system, a

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

the project."

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


, 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


, led to retaliatory firing.


A whistleblower's


In March 2009, Klink began working as a civil inspector in

North Dakota for Bechtel Oil,

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


(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

(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,"

Michael wrote.

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

very good."

In an interview with the Omaha World


, 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

, 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

, 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

pipeline shipment.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar authored the North American Energy

Security Act

that 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."


Mitch Daniels

also 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

realistically produce.

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.

A report

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

, 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 undeterred

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

catastrophic failure.

"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

wanted done."

He is haunted by the fallout from

the July 2010 oil spill in

Marshall, Mich


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.


acute toxicity

makes 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

not unique."

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

common sense.

"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."


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