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Canadian crude -- oil, that is

A pump draws oil in the Kern River Oil Field, near Oildale, Calif.

STEVE CHIOTKAIS: Crude oil from the Canadian oil sands has become big business in the United States. Especially here in the Midwest. The industry's creating jobs, yeah, but some say at a cost. At a big cost. From the Changing Gears reporting project, Dan Bobkoff reports.


DAN BOBKOFF: The oil sands may be in Canada, but the industry wants you to know that all that tar-like crude means jobs here.

API AD: Fact is: developing Canadian oil sands and supporting U.S. infrastructure to bring them to American consumers could create more than 342,000 American jobs in the next four years.

BOBKOFF: That number includes everything from companies that make equipment for the oil sands, to, some that sound like a stretch: like makers of breakfast cereals for all the workers. For now, construction workers are the big winners. Ken Wesley of Detroit had been traveling the country trying to find work as an electrician.

KEN WESLEY: Family and kids. Haven't seen them in about eight months.

BOBKOFF: But with oil companies spending billions to expand refineries across the Midwest, he just landed a gig at Marathon Oil's growing Detroit refinery. Thirteen-hundred construction workers should be on the job there by fall. It's a similar story at other refineries, as they scramble to process more of the tar-like Canadian crude coming in by pipeline. But those pipelines are creating another kind of job: and it's not one to celebrate.

RALPH DOLLHOPF: A year ago, there was heavy oil here from bank to bank.

BOBKOFF: Ralph Dollhopf of the EPA takes me for an airboat ride on Michigan's Kalamazoo River. A year ago, 800,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude spilled here from a pipeline. Unlike most conventional oil, this stuff sank. We come across one crew using long poles to stir up the sunken oil.

DOLLHOPF: Are you bringing up much oil here?

BOBKOFF: And, this oil sands crude released volatile organics and benzene into the air. Penny Miller lived near where the spill occurred.

PENNY MILLER: The next day my dog died from the fumes, too. So, I was a mess.

BOBKOFF: The industry says there's no significant difference between oil sands crude and the regular stuff. And, it's easy to see why the Midwest embraces pipelines and refinery expansions. Guys like that electrician Ken Wesley need jobs.

WESLEY: Going to have a good summer.

BOBKOFF: I'm Dan Bobkoff for Marketplace.

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