As of the 13th of October, the Enbridge pipeline project has created over $1,220,572 in payroll for area residents, according to Osage Nation officials.
“This payroll represents only one hundred workers,” said Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle’s Pipeline Consultant Rod Hartness. “That figure will just get bigger and bigger as crews build up.”
The success of the Enbridge project has not been without its share of controversy. The following is an interview the Pawhuska Journal-Capital conducted with Hartness about how he became involved in the Enbridge project and the obstacles he ultimately faced.
Journal-Capital: Osage County residents are aware that a lot of activity has been going on for the past ten months as a result of the Enbridge pipeline project. Can you explain to our readers your role and a little bit about your history with the pipeline industry?
Hartness: My Dad was a member of Pipeline Welder Union #798 for 65 years. During that time, he developed a pretty good reputation. Dad and Uncle Lefty Roberson opened a path in the pipeline industry for me which has been good to me over the years. I got in at the right time and got out at the right time. I’ve been in the business for 35 years and currently handle pipe sales through my company, G&H. I was in partnership with Ed Gaylord out of Oklahoma City for some 20 years and retired. In addition to pipelining, my passion is to rodeo.
Journal-Capital: When and how did you become involved with the Enbridge project?
Hartness: Chief Red Eagle was aware of my family’s history with the pipeline industry. I believe the Osage people are benefiting from the contacts Dad established by providing an avenue for lucrative jobs in Osage County. I was taught at a young age, it’s not what you know but who you know.
Right after he was elected, the Chief asked me, ‘Rod, what can we do to create jobs.’ When Chief Red Eagle asked me to head up his vision, I was very honored. I remember Dad was always taking young guys out to work. It’s become a Hartness tradition over the years to create job opportunities for those willing to try pipelining. ‘As the Bible says, give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.’
Journal-Capital: When you began working with the Chief, what type of game plan did you have in mind?
Hartness: Our initial plan was for the Osage Nation to form a joint venture with a contractor to oversee construction of the 57 miles of pipeline crossing the reservation. The joint venture would benefit the Osage Nation with a controlling share of 51/49 percent. The contractor would cover all finances while receiving tax incentives because this would be a minority job across a reservation.
I also proposed the Osage Nation Energy Services (ONES) set a camp (warehouse) up in Pawhuska – like we did in Montana and Wyoming. It’s something like a mobile hotel. We would set up for 200-300 hands and the money would stay in Osage County. Because ONES did not move forward, the warehouses are in Bartlesville, Sand Springs, and Independence, Kansas. This means surrounding areas will reap the economic benefits.
When ONES squashed these plans, I switched gears and went straight to the unions to put hands to work. This resulted in the Osage Nation Human Resource and Education Departments partnering with the Pawhuska Business Development Center and Enbridge Pipeline to provide a myriad of training opportunities for pipeline-related jobs.
I am not going to get into politics. For the record, I was not asking for a job. I accepted Chief Red Eagle’s offer because I have a lot of friends in Pawhuska and know a lot of individuals who are out of work. When I walked downtown in Pawhuska and saw people needing employment, I believed the Chief had the vision to eradicate that problem.
Journal-Capital: As Chief Red Eagle’s pipeline consultant, can you identify any other benefits for Osage County?
Hartness: We had some inspectors who needed to go to work for Cleveland Integrity out of Cleveland, Oklahoma. The chief inspector also knew my Dad very well. The JC did a previous article about the success of this venture which resulted in putting six Osages and one non-Osage to work the day after I contacted the company. The non-Osage is married to an Osage woman and has Osage children.
That is another step that would not have happened except for Chief Red Eagle’s vision.
The money brought into the county from payroll will have a trickle-down effect on local businesses. The hands that have gone to work on this project will be able to provide for their families and create a better way of life. This experience is creating life-changing opportunities that will help individuals and this area’s economy for many years to come.
Journal-Capital: You recently met with Danny Hendrix, Business Manager for Union #798. What was the purpose of this visit?
Hartness: I went down to visit with Danny because his union is letting our tribal members work for U.S. Pipeline. I wanted to make sure we were meeting the standards he expected us to meet on this job. Danny was very pleased with how well our recently trained welders and welder helpers are performing. In fact, we are working with him right now about sending our hands to other jobs across the United States.
One of the agreements I made with the Enbridge pipeline project was to insure that every student would have an opportunity to buy a union card. Every union agreed to that. Tulsa based Welders Union #798 went even further when they invited us to send our welders and welder helpers to their headquarters for training at no cost.
Within the next couple of weeks, I will be talking to Operators Union #627 which is also based out of Tulsa. Eventually I will be meeting with all four union reps to see how our training programs are going and evaluating them to see if we can do even better.
Feedback has been phenomenal. My goal is for the folks who want to make a career out of pipelining to get the necessary training, get their union cards and, with my contacts, find additional employment opportunities even after this project has been completed.
In spite of today’s economy, all four unions predict the pipelining business is going to be very busy, especially for the next three years. Oklahoma is becoming an extension of the success North Dakota has been experiencing.
Journal-Capital: Do you have anything else you would like to mention?
Hartness: Here is what I want everybody to understand, I am retired from the pipeline business. It’s been very good to me and my family. I’m a third generation pipeliner. I enjoy being home now. I have no intention of restarting my pipeline company. I am content with handling pipe sales. I’m not Osage. I’m Seneca Cayuga. I live in Osage County. My wife, Ashlee (Morton) is Osage. I grew up in Pawhuska and want to see this community and its residents have the best life possible.
During one of the Osage Nation congressional meetings, someone said timing was bad for the Chief’s visions. My question, ‘How can it be bad timing to put people to work?’ Another congressman said I should step back and let ONES take the baton. OK, I stepped back and let ONES take the baton. Where is it now? It’s in the mud. I cannot see where ONES is doing anything to help the Osage people.
The Osage LLC was formed to help stimulate economic development for the Osage Nation. Millions have been appropriated to them with only a few Osages hired from their endeavors. The Chief’s visions have been fully implemented and are successful without any supplemental appropriation to his annual budget.
Under Chief Red Eagle, we have over 150 individuals working right now and additional hands going out weekly. We trained around 400 of which 25 percent were women. A lot of those trained already had other jobs lined up or were not quite ready to enter the work force.
Following Enbridge’s open house, I visited with Kelly Osborne, U.S. Pipeline President, and Project Manager Luke Keshner. Both said they were very pleased and impressed with the Osage Nation training program.
In spite of all the controversy, I continue to be the liaison between Chief Red Eagle and the four unions. As a paid consultant, the maximum I can make is $4,000 a month. I’ve never asked to be reimbursed for mileage nor for meals that I frequently purchase for many of the workers while we are out on jobs.
My soul purpose of accepting this assignment was to create jobs. It’s not about the money. If it were, I would be working as a union steward for $3- to 4,000 a week. The Enbridge pipeline project is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Once it comes through, that’s it. They do not come back and redo it. We have this one opportunity to put our people to work and make money.
I would like to thank Delary Walters, Osage Nation HR Director, Jana Scimeca, Osage Nation HR, Ida Doyle, Osage Nation Education Director for all their help and dedication to this project as well. Without them, the trainings and sending the hands out would not have been as smooth as it. Also, I would like to thank Scott Sutherland for his time and efforts of training our hands.”