01/03/2012 06:44 EST | Updated 03/04/2012 05:12 EST

Mike Klink, Keystone 'Whistleblower,' Alleges Shoddy Materials Along Original Pipeline


WASHINGTON - A former inspector for a company that did work on TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline is accusing the Calgary-based company of a cavalier disregard for the environment.

Mike Klink was an engineer for construction company Bechtel Corp., a contractor that worked on the first portion of the Keystone pipeline that carries Alberta oilsands crude to refineries in the American Midwest. It was completed in 2010; the controversial Keystone XL would extend that pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.

In an opinion piece published over the weekend in Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star, the 59-year-old Klink says he raised a series of concerns about alleged sub-standard materials and poor craftsmanship along the Keystone pipeline.

The Indiana man says he was fired by Bechtel as a result, and filed a complaint about his dismissal with the U.S. Department of Labor in March 2010. In his formal complaint, also sent to the U.S. Office of Whistleblower Protection Program, Klink says the company began treating him as a "problem inspector" culminating in one supervisor angrily ordering him to quit before he got fired.

"Let's be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn't build pipelines," he wrote in the Nebraska newspaper.

"We just should not build this one."

His job as an inspector, Klink said, involved monitoring the construction of pump stations along the first Keystone pipeline.

"I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up," he wrote. "When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job — but people along the Keystone XL pathway have a lot more to lose if this project moves forward with the same shoddy work."

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha disputed Klink's assertions, saying he "appears to have made a number of allegations against his previous employer and others, none of which have been proven."

Cunha added that whenever safety concerns are raised by inspectors, TransCanada takes them seriously.

"If a concern is raised, we investigate immediately. If corrective action is required, we act .... Safety is top priority for us. We monitor our Keystone pipeline system through a centralized high-tech centre 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Klink says, however, that he noticed substandard building materials, construction methods and safety standards as he inspected the pipeline.

"Cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests, Bechtel staffers explaining away leaks during pressure tests as 'not too bad,' shortcuts on the steel and rebar that are essential for safe pipeline operation and siting of facilities on completely inappropriate spots like wetlands," he wrote.

He said that he shared his concerns with his bosses, who passed them along to "the bigwigs at TransCanada, but nothing changed. TransCanada didn't appear to care."

Keystone remains in the spotlight in the U.S. capital after Republicans succeeded in having a provision inserted into legislation to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits to Americans hard-hit by tough economic times.

The measure would force the Obama administration to make a decision on Keystone XL within 60 days. White House officials and Democrats say the provision has all but killed the pipeline since a thorough review of a new route for Keystone XL — around a crucial aquifer in Nebraska — cannot be conducted in such a short time period.

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