UPDATE 1-Rowdy Keystone pipeline hearing pits workers vs greens

Thu Apr 18, 2013 5:26pm EDT
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By Katie Schubert

OMAHA, Nebraska, April 18 (Reuters) - U.S. construction workers, environmentalists and company executives squared off on Thursday at a raucous meeting on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but it was unclear the gathering changed any minds on the controversial project.

U.S. State Department officials hosting the meeting repeatedly called for order at the hearing in Grand Island, Nebraska. It was the first since the department released a 2,000-page report on the environmental impacts of the pipeline in March and more than four years after the project was first floated.

The proposed 830,000 barrel per day pipeline would link Canada's oil sands petroleum fields with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and also carry domestic oil from Montana and North Dakota through states such as Nebraska.

Dozens of speakers from both sides of the fence took three-minute turns before the microphone at the Heartland Events Center. They often interrupted one another during the eight hours of testimony at a venue more used to hosting monster-truck derbies and antique shows.

Union representatives hailed the project as a safe, state-of-the-art pipeline that will create jobs and bring a source of oil into the United States from a nation that doesn't pose a national security threat.

"This job will be done with union workers and high paying jobs with benefits. If that isn't in the interest of this country, what is?" said Chad Gilbert, a union welder. "My members need these jobs."

Business groups lauded the trickle-down benefits for Nebraska's economy, from increased property tax revenues for local government to higher sales at local gasoline stations.   Continued...