Over 150 people converged on Bald Knob Tuesday for Pipeliners Appreciation Day, held in the Educational Building of First Baptist Church.
Wayne Byrd, who said he lives out between Bald Knob and Pleasant Plains, said “I have been pipelining all my life, that is all I know. “Then when [President] Biden come in there, he had wiped it all out with a stroke of a pen, just shut us all down, wants to keep us all at home.” Byrd said he had two different jobs. He said he was supposed to go to North Dakota but that project got shut down and then he got a job in West Virginia and that job got shut down too.”
Byrd said he will turn 60 in July. He said not only did pipleiners suffer when they Keystone Pipeline project was shut down but it hurt the people working in restaurants and motels, “the whole towns.” He said he knows people that were working on the Keystone project and knows others who were working in the industry all over the country.
“We’re pretty much shut down, Byrd said. “They are trying to to get us to work on solar panels, and wind mills but we don’t know nothing about that. We would have to start all over again.”
Neal Crabtree, who lives in Fouke, south of Texarkana, said he is a pipeliner and said “it would be easier to tell you where I haven’t worked. I have worked everywhere but Alaska. I have been doing this for about 25 years, working in Union 798, most of the people here are members of 798.”
Crabtree said he was actually working on the Keystone Pipeline when the announcement came that is was being shut down. “Three hours after the president was inaugurated, I got layed off. I was going to get to hire a bunch more people had they not canceled the project. We are kind of in a disagreement about the reasons for it being canceled when oil is already coming in with rail cars. We thought building a pipeline would be a heck of a lot of a simpler way to do it. People ask me a lot if us coming together is going to help anything. It dang sure ain’t gonna hurt nothing. If we sit back and don’t do anything, I guarantee you nothing will get done. We got to fight for it.”
Chad Woods, a pipeliner for four years, from Searcy said he came to the appreciation day “to support my brothers and sisters. We are union and we want to provide for our family but we can’t. I mean we have no jobs and our president told us to go find another job. It’s hard. I was working up there in the Keystone in the Ohio project. I lost my job by November.”
Woods said Bald Knob is known for pipeliners. “This is where all the welders and all the union people come from. We are all a big family out here and Arkansas is the number one state capital of everything. We travel.” Woods said he is not working right now and says other pipeliners are just taking whatever odd jobs they can kind. He said hopefully the coming together of the workers will send out a message. “If it don’t help, we are going to be sitting ducks. I hate to say it the way I see it but if we can’t get a job, we will lose our livelihood. I can’t support my family. You know it’s hard enough right now. You can’t live off unemployment the rest of your life.” Woods said being a pipeliner runs in his family and he became one because his brother is a pipeliner. “I started off as an operator, now I am a foreman. Now, I don’t have a spot to go to.”
Billy Burns, a welding foreman from Bald Knob, said years and years ago the pipeline came through Bald Knob. “It was at the time the union was being formed, so they [the workers] happened to be at the right place at the right time. A lot of people went to work on the pipeline and ever since then they have been generating more pipeliners every year.”
Burns said he was working on the Keystone Pipeline and was getting ready to hire a couple hundred people. “We should be up there now. We did preliminary work last year. It has been tough. All the pumping stations were almost completed. Actually the pipeline itself, the southern half of the United States is in tact but we couldn’t get across the Canadian border because of the policies. Biden pulled the permit and we couldn’t do it. Keystone is a big deal. Fossil fuels as a whole are under attack. It has been pretty tough for us to see even natural gas being bypassed. It was so clean. Wanting to get completely away from fossil fuels is leaving us on an island surrounded by water so to speak.” Burns said there are some jobs out there but he hasn’t worked in the last year and other people are trying to work odd jobs.
“They always say the squeaky wheel is the one that gets greased,” Burns said. “You hate to be the squeaky wheel because we are not designed to be like that. We are pretty humble folks but when you start taking food out of our children’s mouth and our family’s mouth it turns it in to a different scenario.”
Crabtree said “it ain’t about me. It ain’t about Fouke, Arkansas. This energy problem we are facing is all over the country. I have heard people say we need to give up on the Keystone and maybe it will never happen but I can promise you one thing, if we don’t fight for every project, it is going to make it that much easier to cancel it in the future. It will become the norm.”
Arkansas Attorney Rutledge spoke after a catfish lunch that was served to the pipeliners. Bald Knob City Council members served drinks at the lunch. Crabtree said Rutledge has filed lawsuits against the president canceling the Keystone Pipeline project.
Rutledge said she is taller on TV and she grew up about 20 minutes up the road between Pleasant Plains and Southside. She said the pipeliners are “good, hard working Americans who are ready to get back to work. I mean that is how we were raised.”
Rutledge said she saw Crabtree being interviewed on the national news in Fawke. “I immediately got on the phone with my team and I said ‘I want you all to track down Neal Crabtree and the rest of these folks so we can let them know what we are doing for them because I have found in my experience the last six and a half years as Attorney General, whether it’s a pharmacist, farmers and ranchers, that when we go to file lawsuits, it is best to talk to people whose lives are actually impacted and to hear directly from you all about what the Keysone Pipeline means to you and your families and that is why we have been so successful.”
Crabtree and Rutledge met in Fawke and had “a great conversation” with him. She said “as soon as President Joe Biden signed that executive order [canceling the pipeline], I was all in fighting because it not only means money taken right out of your pocketbooks and your families and your communities but it also makes America less energy independent and we are in a real fight for our country right now.”
Rutledge talked about environmentalist who said the Keystone Pipeline need to be canceled and make it more environmentally friendly. “That’s just nonsense because it takes 645 rail cars to push that same amount that it would in one day for the pipeline. We have filed a lawsuit. We have sent President Biden a letter and said we are getting ready to do this. Old Joe doesn’t listen very well. I know it’s the Biden-Harris administration but I call it the Harris-Biden administration so we joined with Montana, Louisiana and these other states to file a lawsuit when President Biden cancelled the Keystone Pipeline to protect your jobs, to protect your livelihood and to always be fighting for you. We have also filed a lawsuit on the executive order stating that we can no longer have new permits for oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. We filed a lawsuit on the greenhouse gas emission regulations because they want to give a $9.5 trillion social cost with those greenhouse gas emissions regulation. They aren’t counting the social cost of you not being able to have a job. They are not counting the social cost of what the increase price of fuel is for your family to go grocery shopping or maybe if you have enough money to go to a Razorback game or to go fishing on the Little Red.”
Rutledge said she has never in her life met a fight that is too big for her. “I am going to fight and we are going to win this lawsuit, just like we won lawsuits against Obama and Biden. I believe in winning. When someone tells me something is impossible, that is a starting point so we are going to keep fighting for you and your families to make sure you have good paying jobs and to make sure our liberties and constitutional rights are being protected because right now, whether it’s our second amendment rights that we have to fight for, our first amendment liberty rights, we are fighting every single day at the Attorney General’s office and I want to keep fighting for you as the next governor for the state of Arkansas.”