Union ramps up support for pipeline and resource projects

Operating engineers sponsor ads to confront what they see as the public's misconceptions concerning development

Local 115 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, representing more than 11,500 workers in BC and the Yukon, has begun sponsoring full-page advertisements in some regional trade magazines to herald the union’s support for pipeline and resource projects.

The ad, titled ‘A completed pipeline in British Columbia’, confronts misconceptions about the environmental impact and safety of proposed infrastructure projects such as an oil or natural gas pipeline, Local 115 business manager Brian Cochrane explained.

“Pipelines are one of our core markets. We are the earth movers,” Cochrane said. “We are the ones that are going to clear out the right of way and excavate the trench for the pipe. Once the pipe is in the ground, we’re responsible for the cover that goes over it.

“Our members work to the highest standards. Over the decades, the integrity, the oversight and the engineering of pipeline construction has gone up exponentially.”

The ad’s left-side photo shows an IUOE crew including heavy equipment operators setting pipe in a trench along a right of way. The right side photo shows a patch of ground that has been restored after construction work is complete.

The accompanying text says, “Many people do not understand the care and expertise spent building a major pipeline. Operating engineers work to the strictest environmental standards, so that often the surrounding habitat is in a better state than it was beforehand.”

Local 115 thinks the ability of a skilled workforce to build a safe, secure and reliable pipeline with minimal environmental impact is being overlooked in a pipeline debate that’s focusing on issues such as climate change and marine safety.

“Throughout British Columbia, people are driving by major pipeline systems every day and they don’t even realize it because the engineers, the contractors, and the owners have done a very good job,” Cochrane said.

Cochrane pointed to the union’s historic role in building BC’s industrial infrastructure — supporting resource development that continues to be the foundation of the province’s economy.

“We’ve been building pipelines across the country for decades. As a matter of fact, we were the builders of the original Trans Mountain oil pipeline that Kinder Morgan is looking to upgrade and to twin.

“Pipelines are the safest, most effective way to move that product, from both an environmental and economic standpoint. When people try to stop pipeline construction, the alternatives are not only more expensive, they are less environmentally sensitive,” Cochrane said.

Pipelines are also a key to national prosperity, he added. “When you look at the Toronto Stock Exchange, the economic activity that goes on across the country, the health of the Canadian dollar, the tax revenue that goes to hospitals or education, the investments in your RRSPs and pensions, and the subsidies that give Canada its great social strength, a lot of that comes from the production and transmission of energy. It’s what makes the country run.”

The IUOE has a 40-acre training site in Haney, and the union invests about $2 million per year into training for its members. Cochrane said pipeline projects such as Trans Mountain Expansion Project and pipelines supporting LNG development would put IUOE members in “high demand.” That means “great career opportunities” for young people — including First Nations, he added.

Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, said council members such as IUOE are speaking out in a bid to “dial down” the negative rhetoric about pipeline development.

“As much as I would love to see secondary manufacturing and other industry come into British Columbia and into Canada, by and large we are a resource-based economy,” Sigurdson said.

“What we’re trying to do is say that when a pipeline is properly constructed and properly maintained, it can deliver the product safely and securely to the market. With a growing population in British Columbia, and worldwide, we need to make certain that we continue to enjoy the lifestyle that we have, and pipelines are part of that.”

Scott Simpson was an award-winning reporter/columnist/editor at The Vancouver Sun, including a 10-year stint on the energy and mining beats. Other topics that interest Scott include innovation, technology, environment, transportation, government affairs, fisheries, and aboriginal relations.

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