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The Truth About Keystone XL Construction Jobs

September 15, 2010

Michels Pipeline Construction workers building the Keystone pipeline near Britton, SD. Michels Pipeline Construction is based in Brownsville, WI and according to its website has offices in Arizona, California, Canada, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. But not in South Dakota.

Would construction of the Keystone XL pipeline be a boon for workers living in the states the pipeline passes through, employing a high percentage of local people in the pipeline construction jobs?

Based on what happened in South Dakota during construction of the first Keystone pipeline, the answer is probably “No.”

In South Dakota, most of the workers hired to build the Keystone pipeline were not South Dakotans. According to TransCanada’s own data, only about 11% of the construction jobs on the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota were filled by South Dakotans*.

Furthermore, most of the highest-skilled, best-paying jobs went to out-of-state workers who travel from project to project, from state to state.

Or, as a South Dakota contractor with his own construction equipment told a Plains Justice employee, “I didn’t work on the pipeline because the jobs they were hiring were just ditch diggers. There wasn’t anything for a guy like me.”

We know what happened in South Dakota because of TransCanada’s response to a Plains Justice discovery request during the Keystone XL proceedings at the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

Most of the South Dakota workers were hired in unskilled labor categories. The most common category for South Dakotans hired to build the pipeline was laborers.

The skilled jobs mostly went to out of staters. For example, of 398 welders and pipefitters, only three were South Dakota resident workers. Of the 569 equipment operators, only 27 were South Dakotans.

*Although this data is for the first 12 months of approximately 18 months of construction, the contractors did not change, so the crew staffing in all likelihood continued at the same in-state and out-of-state proportions.

Why is this significant? TransCanada and its supporters say the Keystone XL pipeline will employ lots of workers in the pipeline states. While workers will definitely be hired, the South Dakota Keystone pipeline experience shows that most of the construction jobs and most of the highest-skilled (a.k.a best-paying) construction jobs will likely go to out of staters.

Photo Credit: Kent Moeckly

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