CHICAGO - America has an urgent, ever-increasing need for energy - and also a need to break free from dependency on foreign oil. To discuss and share information on these vital energy issues, the United Association (UA) held the Inaugural Tripartite Meeting earlier this fall. The meeting was the first of what is anticipated to be annual “state of the union” energy forums.

The tripartite is composed of contractors, union officials, and representatives from leaders in energy production, including Duke Energy, Exelon, Sunoco, and more. The meeting was held at the UA Local Union (LU) 597 Training Center in Mokena, Ill. Local Union 597 serves Chicago as well as 18 counties in Illinois and northwest Indiana, and represents over 7,500 men and women in the piping industry.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman served as guest speaker and in his address, stressed the energy industry’s need for skilled workers. He praised the UA and Local 597 for their training programs designed to prepare workers to build the pipelines and power plants that will provide energy security. “Future success in ensuring America’s energy security will depend heavily on our ability to recruit, educate, and train highly skilled workers much like yourselves to work in this industry,” he said. “Facilities, such as this training center, complement the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative, which provides for the pursuit of advanced education and skills training. Through the outstanding union training offered at centers like this, the precision and expertise necessary to build these complex plants can be taught, learned, and put to use.”


Bodman addressed the future of our country’s energy needs. “The global demand for electricity is going to almost double by 2030,” he said. “The same global economy producing challenges to our energy security is producing challenges to our economic security. In order to meet these demands, the world is going to have to develop new ways to power itself. The same is true here in the United States.

“Our job is to innovate as well as leverage existing technology to produce new and better ways to power our homes, our businesses, and our cars and trucks. We’re putting more into fuels made from biomass like corn-based ethanol; but we’re also trying to develop cost-effective fuels made from other crops like switch grass. We’re working on a new generation of clean coal plants that sequester their greenhouse gas emissions underground rather than pumping them into the atmosphere. But we’re also on the edge of a nuclear renaissance here in the United States.

“Nuclear power is the only mature technology that today can give us the sufficiently large amounts of base load power we need - and the world needs - to meet the projected growth in an environmentally responsible way. In fact, you may receive news later today that the first ever nuclear plant combined construction and operation license is going to be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by NRG. This is a major development and an impressive step forward.”


Bodman’s comments point to a huge, upcoming influx of energy construction work. Early signs of the big push can be seen throughout the country. According to William P. Hite, general president of the United Association, America is enjoying the most extensive construction boom since World War II and the energy sector is driving that boom.

Within the UA, the time local unions spent on pipelines added up to two-million hours in the last year, and it could double in the next year. There is more work now than was ever associated with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. In the Chicagoland area, numerous energy construction projects are either upcoming or underway, including:

Enbridge Pipeline:This project is designed to bring Canadian oil into Chicago area refineries. Stage Two construction - the Southern Access Expansion - will begin in 2008. This consists of approximately 133 miles of new pipeline from its Delavan pumping station in Wisconsin to its terminal near Pontiac, Ill. There it will connect with Enbridge’s Spearhead system west of Chicago.

BP Amoco Refinery:The CXHO Project (Canadian Crude) project is underway and is expected to continue to early 2011. BP plans to invest more than $5 billion on this project to modernize its Whiting, Ind., facility, so it can process the additional heavy crude oil from Canada - a secure and reliable source. James Buchanan, business manager of Local Union 597, has stated that “this project alone will be a major employer of Local 597 pipe fitters for the next four to five years.” A huge hydrogen project is also in the works for BP.

Exxon/Mobil:A $300 million project of considerable manpower and duration is forthcoming. A Chicago-area Exxon/Mobil refinery is set to receive environmental updates on existing equipment to lessen pollutants into the atmosphere.

Citgo:A new hydrogen facility will be installed, as well as a low-sulfur diesel unit. Both of these projects will start in 2008.

According to Buchanan, the UA local is doing all that it can to recruit new apprentices and move them into the field as quickly as possible. “Our new accelerated hybrid welding program can propel welders onto job sites within just 16 weeks,” he said. “It’s a program I felt was essential to meeting the growing energy needs of Chicago and the nation.”

Across North America, the UA International is working to recruit and train the quality workers necessary for the burgeoning energy industry. According to Hite, the UA has made a $130 million annual commitment to training, with a goal of 50,000 apprentices in training by 2008, creating an infrastructure of mobile training facilities, online studies, accelerated training, and other educational options.


Building energy systems requires a high level of training and security from a workforce that is available and readily replenished. Training programs like those offered by LU 597 are key to building and maintaining the energy infrastructure of the Chicago area. The end product of their labor will be to stabilize and ultimately reduce energy costs. Their efforts will help to keep our country’s energy industry flowing with U.S.-based fuels, substantially reducing reliance on foreign countries.

For more information on UA Pipe Fitters Local Union 597, visit

Publication date:12/24/2007