About 40 angry union workers blasted El Paso Corp.’s safety and financial record Wednesday morning in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where commissioners were holding their regular bi-weekly meeting. The AFL-CIO affiliated Pipeline Workers of America (PWOA) handed out flyers that said, “Say No to Blue Atlantic,” El Paso’s proposed 1,000-mile, 36-inch diameter Atlantic pipeline system that would bring gas to New York and New Jersey from offshore Nova Scotia.

The union workers said they want to know why FERC would even consider giving certificates to El Paso in light of its poor safety record, which includes 40 pipeline ruptures since 1985, and the ruling from an administrative law judge that El Paso manipulated the natural gas market in California (see Daily GPI, Sept. 24, 2002).

“Its record is terrible: price fixing, conspiracy, the Carlsbad, NM, explosion that killed 12 people,” a union spokesman said. The union flyer also noted El Paso was fined $2.5 million for safety violations, including failure to perform proper erosion inspections, which caused the Carlsbad, NM, rupture (see Daily GPI, Aug. 28, 2000; June 22, 2001; June 21, 2002; Aug. 30, 2002). The Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety proposed the $2.5 million fine for El Paso, but the company has challenged it, and has not paid the fine to this date.

El Paso also has had multiple OSHA violations, the flyer said, claiming that one employee was killed and two badly burned in another explosion. The union workers say El Paso uses construction companies that allow dangerous conditions on its pipeline projects.

“Enough is enough; stop El Paso now,” their flyers read. The workers plan to go door to door in New Jersey, where Blue Atlantic is expected to make landfall, to inform citizens about El Paso’s record. In addition, they plan to have as many as 100 protesters picketing at FERC’s pipeline investor meeting on Thursday.

El Paso spokesman Mel Scott said the company has had problems with the unions in the past because it sometimes uses contractors that do not hire all union workers for its projects. “Sunland Construction Co., based in Eunice, LA, is one of our contractors that doesn’t use union workers, and the PWOA has been protesting us because we have used Sunland over the years.” Sunland is currently working on an expansion project for Southern Natural Gas, an El Paso subsidiary, in Georgia, he said.

“But the PWOA campaign has consisted of blatant and intentional distortions of facts. They have talked about us not having safe construction practices and that our workers aren’t qualified to do their jobs.” Those claims are untrue, he said. He disputed the claims of 40 pipeline ruptures since 1985. “How do you define rupture?” Scott asked. “Which pipelines are they talking about?” He also noted that the $2.5 million fine by the Department of Transportation is just a “proposed” fine.

“In today’s environment, our name has a lot of publicity around it so why not target us.”

“El Paso’s is aware of what we are doing and they don’t like it because they don’t want to talk about safety in the pipeline industry whether it’s in construction or maintenance,” said Bill Goodrich, spokesman for the PWOA. “We hope FERC will hold El Paso accountable for the kinds of contractors they hire to build their pipelines. They continue to hire contractors that exploit workers and disregard safety — workers get killed on these jobs.

“Maybe FERC is not aware of El Paso’s record. We went over to the Office of Pipeline Safety and got the same thing: they don’t care. That’s my impression of the whole [regulatory regime over this industry]. It’s about money and getting the pipeline in. This is too dangerous an industry not to have proper oversight in place.”

Goodrich said he didn’t know if the union won the bid to build El Paso’s Blue Atlantic system. “That’s not the issue,” he said. “Chances are the job will be built by the union, but that’s not the point. The point is why should El Paso continue to have the ability to build pipelines wherever they want when they have a track record like they do. We are going to go door to door to make every landowner aware of their record and to sign these petitions to ask FERC to not give them a permit. We are going to get over 10,000 signatures in New Jersey next month.”

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