As debate rages over Keystone XL pipeline, project will have minimal impact in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma leaders are praising the renewed momentum in Congress to approve construction of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the project will have very little economic impact on the Sooner State.

Construction of the Oklahoma portion of the pipeline is already finished. If approved, the 36-inch-diameter pipeline will carry crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast. Construction over the last several years brought thousands of good paying temporary jobs to Oklahoma, but those are gone now.

The current debate in Congress is centered on the proposed northern leg, which would run from Hardesty in Alberta, Canada, through Montana and South Dakota to Steele City, Nebraska.

The Gulf Coast segment of the project began carrying oil earlier this year from the northern Oklahoma town of Cushing to refineries in the Gulf Coast. That helped relieve a glut of oil that was backing up in Cushing, a city dubbed the "Pipeline Crossroads of the World" because of the intricate oil and natural gas network of pipelines and storage tanks housed there.

"The Gulf Coast segment helps Oklahoma producers, because it allows them to bring their crude oil to the Gulf Coast where it is refined," said Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada, which owns the pipeline.

Danny Hendrix, business manager for the Pipeliners Local 798 in Tulsa, which represents thousands of pipeline workers across the country, said approval of the Keystone XL's northern leg would lead to another temporary construction boom.

"That's going to be thousands more jobs for a lot of people, not just in Oklahoma, but in lots of states," Hendrix said.

Besides pipefitters, the project will employ thousands of heavy equipment operators, laborers, teamsters and other workers.

"Those are great paying jobs," Hendrix said.

A study commissioned by the Consumer Energy Alliance shows the Gulf Coast project, which began in 2012 and became operational in January, pumped $2.1 billion into Oklahoma's economy, including more than $1 billion in wages and $72 million in total taxes.

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