Keystone seen as saviour for struggling Texas city
But opponents of TransCanada's pipeline also vocal
When U.S. President Barack Obama decides the fate of TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline, one factor he will likely weigh is the project’s impact on the struggling city of Port Arthur, Texas.
The city of 57,000 on the Gulf Coast is the end point for the pipeline, where refineries — owned by Motiva and Valero — would process the bitumen from Alberta's oilsands.
With its blighted downtown streets of boarded up shops and abandoned buildings, the city needs a boost.
According to the head of the local pipefitters' union, James Williamson, nearly a third of his members were out of work last year.
"A lot of members lost things actually. You know, they had homes they almost lost because of mortgages and stuff, and vehicles. There's a lot of items that came up for sale during this past year."
Members of the union showed up in force to the recent public hearings to voice their support for their project and its promise of 20,000 jobs.
Port Arthur's mayor, Deloris "Bobbi" Prince has also come out strongly in favour of Keystone XL.
Prince is saddled with multiple issues: a derelict downtown, an unemployment rate of 15 per cent and a 25 per cent poverty rate.
She anticipates dozens if not hundreds of spin-off jobs from the Keystone project. "I think it's the fuel for the economy in this country," she said.
But according to community activist Hilton Kelley, the risk of greater emissions isn't worth the refining jobs Keystone would bring.
He said the local refineries are already having a negative impact on the city’s environment.
As the founder of Community In-Power and Development Association — a group devoted to urban renewal and environmental protection — Kelley has been speaking out against the pipeline.
But Kelley acknowledges he's in the minority. And he fondly recalls the city of his youth.
"We had a great downtown area with lots of commerce, we had grocery stores, clothing stores, shoe stores. But now all that has changed," he said.
There are other dissenting voices, right in the heart of Texas oil and gas country.
Up the highway from Port Arthur, a few hundred kilometres east of Dallas, David Daniel has been spearheading a campaign against Keystone.
Daniel owns eight hectares of rural property, covered in hundred-year-old hardwoods and bisected by a spring-fed creek.
Three years ago he was stunned to discover that his land sits right in the path of the planned pipeline.
"I'd never heard of tar sands or Keystone or anything ... when people said that people had been trespassing on our property. So I went and checked it out and found my property had been fully surveyed and staked without my knowledge or consent," Daniel said.
Daniel is concerned about the possibility of a pipeline leak on his property, and he's unconvinced by TransCanada's assurances of stringent safety precautions.
Faced with the threat of expropriation by TransCanada, Daniel accepted a $13,000 payment in exchange for the land rights.
He then invested the money in STOP, an anti-Keystone group with members across the United States.
Daniel admits that Texas could benefit from the employment the pipeline would bring. But he's dubious about TransCanada's job estimates, noting that U.S. State Department projections are considerably lower.
And Daniel said, in the end, jobs alone are not enough.
"I'm a construction worker. I'm out of work right now. But I myself wouldn’t want to put somebody else's family at risk when it's obviously a bad project that doesn't have regulations, so that I could have a temporary six to nine month job."