Keystone XL: Clearing up job figures confusion

By John Parnell

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create just 35 permanent jobs during its operation and less than 4000 positions during construction, according to a recent report by the US State Department, figures backed up by contractors at the project’s job fairs.

The proposal would pipe Canadian tar sands across the border to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

The jobs numbers in the review  are in line with figures presented at job fairs in the US. They are in conflict with those presented by the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The oil industry lobby group has previously claimed that the project would support 20,000 US jobs and that the Canadian Tar Sands at large would create 465,000 positions in the States by 2035.

TransCanada, the firm behind the pipeline, claims it will support 9,000 construction jobs for two years.

“The draft confirms that the Keystone XL is not an economic recovery plan, since it will create only 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs,” writes Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a thorough examination of the State Department’s review.

The construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will create 3,900 jobs (Source: TransCanada)

“Farming, ranching, and tourism are major sources of employment along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route. Approximately 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the states along the Keystone XL corridor,” says Casey-Lefkowitz.

“Water contamination resulting from a Keystone XL spill, or the cumulative impact of spills over the lifetime of the pipeline, would have significant economic costs.”

Construction of the southern, all-USA leg of Keystone XL has begun. The northern section requires approval from the State Department as it crosses the US-Canada border.

TransCanada is claiming the project is in the US national interest, which allows them to purchase land despite objections.

Job fair

Rita Beving is a lawyer in Dallas, Texas representing some of the landowners who have opposed construction on their property.

“I went to a TransCanada job fair where one of their vendors, Michels from Brownsville, Wisconsin, told me that despite TransCanada’s claims of creating thousands of jobs, they were only going to need 800 people to build their two legs of the pipeline, which crosses two states,” she told RTCC.

“Only 25% of those 800 will be new hires. The local jobs claim doesn’t hold up either because they are bringing people in from out of town,” added Beving.

The jobs argument has been the lynchpin of the pro-Keystone XL argument in the US.

When President Obama delayed approval for the project in January 2012, the API accused him of jeopardising the country’s economic recovery.

“This is all almost too hard to believe. It makes you really question how serious the President is about job creation. We have to ask, Mr. President, what are you thinking,” said Jack Gerard, President and CEO of API in January 2012.

“Our nation is still struggling to recover from one of the worst economic downturns in its history. Fourteen million Americans remain out of work. Yet the President is now telling us that procedural niceties are preventing him from granting a permit that could put thousands of people to work without spending a single taxpayer dollar,” added Gerard.

Game over

The State Department published its draft review of Keystone XL at the beginning of the month. It will be open for public comments for 45 days. It was criticised heavily by green groups when released.

Oil sands are more energy intensive to extract and refine. They are also dirtier when combusted. The Canadian tar sands are the third largest proven oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen has said that exploiting the tar sands vast carbon stocks would be “game over” for the climate.

The State Department report appeared to suggest that it does not believe Keystone XL will contribute additional greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. It claims the pipeline’s future will not affect the ongoing development of Canadian tar sands.

Canada has a limited demand for fossil fuels making the export of the tar sands key. Plans to pipe oil to ports on the West coast for export to Asia have met fierce domestic opposition.

Keystone XL would open up an export route from the US Gulf Coast to overseas markets where prices are higher, but the project has been mired in controversy for at least four years.

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