TransCanada seeks to shift focus to workers as furor over Keystone pipeline grows – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – December 19, 2012)

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A couple of weeks ago, as anti-oil sands activists were in the headlines for their blockade in Texas of the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada Corp. president and CEO Russ Girling was nearby, surveying progress on the right of way and talking to his new recruits.

Four thousand of them were digging ditches and welding pipe in the southern portion of the controversial project to transport oil from Alberta to Texas — the only part that was allowed to proceed by U.S. President Barack Obama this year.

Many were recently unemployed, were looking forward to buying Christmas presents, and were expressing frustration at the few dozen protesters, largely from outside the area.

“On the ground, in Texas and Oklahoma, where we are under construction, you are starting some push-back from people who are saying: ‘I want to go to work. I don’t want you to be in my way every day’,” Mr. Girling said in an interview.

The workers are part of the grassroots TransCanada believes will step up in Keystone XL’s defence as a re-routed project lands before the U.S. President in the spring for a decision on whether it can move forward and contribute to North American economic revival and energy independence — or be rejected yet again as part of a broader stance against climate change.

Indeed, the battle for and against Keystone XL was so inflamed in the first go-around it became entangled in the Presidential election, and the encore in the next few months promises to be even louder as environmentalists aim for a decisive kill — and proponents come out in greater numbers to defend it.

TransCanada will do its part, but so will U.S. unions, its manufacturing sector, its powerful U.S. oil lobby, Congressional leaders, and many among the majority of Americans who support the project, Mr. Girling said.

“I think that strong support is out there and will become more vocal as we move towards the end,” Mr. Girling hinted.

“That is not a place where we want to be as a pipeline company. This is not how we should get things approved. But I believe that people will be asked for their opinions, I believe there are far more people in favour of doing this than are opposed.”

While most Canadians will be watching from the sidelines, the decision could be the most significant next year for its impact on the overall economy, the future of the energy sector and bilateral relations with the U.S.

The southern portion, the $2.3-billion Gulf Coast project from Cushing, Okla. to Nederland, Texas, is about one-third complete.

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