Obama’s pledge of pipeline progress is cheered by Keystone XL officials and supporters

In his only major speech while visiting Oklahoma, the nation’s chief executive (in a roughly 13-minute speech) on Thursday (March 22) covered the gamut of his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. However, the greatest local and state interest was on his firm pledge to expedite completion of the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf Coast. 

After President Barack Obama’s address  at a pipeyard near Cushing, Oklahoma, a smaller contingent of news organizations, including CapitolBeatOK, interviewed officials with Keystone XL. Company executives expressed optimism about the project, saying the White House has been cooperative in advancing the process. 

Planning has been under way for some time, all except one permit is in hand, and construction will begin this summer, pipeline officials said. Organizers of the project emphasize the entire effort is privately financed. Keystone XL officials, carefully avoiding even indirect criticism of the Obama administration, said the process is advancing quickly and construction may be completed within a year. 

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Keystone XL officials said around 600 jobs will be created in Oklahoma directly from pipeline work. Another several hundred jobs in support functions will emerge, for a net of around 1,000 positions. Along the full extent of the route south to the Gulf of Mexico, the project should net several thousand jobs.

State officials attending the event at the pipeyard were generally supportive of the president’s remarks. One, state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, has long backed the Keystone XL project. 

Dorman told CapitolBeatOK he thought the president gave “a good speech, and his words will certainly be popular in this area. Hopefully, we’ll see work start sooner rather than later.” Dorman said he supports the northern end of the project, as well. 

Among those attending Thursday were Jimmy Curry of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, Oklahoma History Center director Bob Blackburn and his wife, former state Rep. Debbie Blackburn, progressive activist Susan Chambers, Oklahoma City School Board President Angela Monson, former state Sen. Bernest Cain, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, former state Treasurer Scott Meacham, Tulsa civic activist Sally Frazier (and India, her granddaughter), state American Civil Liberties Union director Ryan Kiesel, former gubernatorial aide (and House District 88 candidate) Steve Cortes, and state Democratic Party chairman Wallace Collins.

In addition to Rep. Dorman, a variety of state legislators were present, including Democratic Senators Judy Eason-McIntyre of Tulsa, John Sparks of Norman, Tom Adelson of Tulsa, Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City,  and Democratic state Reps. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City, Emily Virgin of Norman,  Danny Morgan of Prague. 

The vast majority of attendees were Democrats, but a few Republicans attended, including state Rep. Lee Denney of Cushing, who greeted the president after the event as the local representative. Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez, a member of Governor Mary Fallin’s cabinet, was present to hear what state officials consider good news on the pipeline project. 

A crowd of about 200 Oklahomans, mostly Democrats, attended President Barack Obama’s Cushing speech, giving him largely positive reviews for the content and message. Another 100 or so state and regional news organizations were in attendance, as well as more than a dozen national reporters.

National “pool” reporters were afforded preferential camera locations and proximity to the president, but there were no news media interviews during the president’s visit to the state. 

After the speech, Obama lingered for another 15 minutes or so at the event site atop a hill on a cool, cloudy day, in the wake of two days of spring storms in the region. He shook hands with many in the crowd. As he wrapped up along the security line, Obama greeted a handful of reporters but did not answer questions. 

However, when a reporter told him she had been born in Hawaii, “at the same hospital where you were,” Obama flashed a broad smile and laughed. He told the journalist, “I hope you’ve got your birth certificate!” The handful who heard the comment roared with laughter, as the president waved and walked briskly away, down the hill to a private meeting and then to his motorcade.