Of Oil and the Undead: A Keystone XL Update

Not long ago, the creature known as Keystone XL was hidden in the uncharted lands of bureaucracy, unknown to the general public. That was before an alliance of environmental campaigners, climate activists, college students, and Nebraska landowners dragged Keystone into the spotlight and made it pivotal issue in Washington.

A New York Times article, a corrupt environmental review, and a couple thousand arrests later, Keystone XL was a celebrity. Its every move became headline news. The No-KXL campaign convinced Obama that the pipeline was dangerous (politically, at least), and he tried to lock it up until after the election. But Republicans in Congress threw a tantrum and demanded a rushed decision on Keystone XL, even though State had warned that the review process would not be complete.

So it was that Barack Obama killed Keystone XL. But the pipeline’s friends on Capitol Hill aren’t backing down. The Grand Oil Party seems to have made reanimating Keystone XL its number-one goal. Right now, they have three main options:

  • Keystone XL will likely be featured in the House’s infrastructure bill. The “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” is a veritable Frankenstein of pro-oil policies and outdated urbanism. (To paraphrase the bill’s authors: Bikes and pedestrians = bad, highways and oil drilling = ♥.) Keystone XL would be in good company.
  • Alternatively, Keystone XL could be added to the next payroll tax bill. The previous one–a stopgap measure–was considered a “must-pass,” so the Republicans used it to rush a decision on the pipeline. They could try the same strategy again, this time requiring an approval. But the leadership would take some heat for holding the popular tax break hostage over an unrelated issue.
  • Big Oil’s pals in the Senate are promoting a standalone bill to approve Keystone XL. So far, 44 Senators have signed on. A House version is in the works as well. If you’re wondering, it would be legal for Congress to approve Keystone XL on its own, but Obama would have to pass a bill circumventing his own authority. In other words, the standalone bill would serve mainly as a talking point

If these options fail, Zombie XL could still come back with an alternate route, or TransCanada could apply for a new permit. For now, though, our oily adversary is confined to the laboratories of Congress.

The Keystone XL is unpredictable and known to attack without warning. Be sure to follow @TarSandsAction and @TheGreenLens for the latest news.

Keystone XL Jobs Figures are Rife With Misleading Math and Conflicts of Interest

Activists protest Keystone XL pipeline at White House

Industry and government estimates of Keystone XL jobs are unreliable, according to independent study.

Have you heard that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 20,000 jobs? If so, you might have read it in a news article and assumed that it came from trustworthy, independent research. But the truth is a bit more complicated.

I’ve already mentioned that TransCanada’s job figures are inflated–but now we have even more evidence. The media has cooperatively echoed TransCanada’s estimates: 13,000 direct construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs. But the TransCanada chief executive himself, Russ Girling, admitted to the Washington Post that the first number was misleading:

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix also handled the Keystone XL environmental review. Why is this important? Because Cardno Entrix lists TransCanada as a “major client.” It turns out that TransCanada handpicked the firm for the State Department. Then, by pure coincidence, the “State” research sounded just like an advertisement for the pipeline: thousands of Keystone XL jobs and “limited adverse environmental impacts.” (See the NYT story for details.)

Made in Canada

Now what about the 7,000 manufacturing jobs? To answer, that, we’ll return to the WashPo article:

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future. The Brixton Group, a firm working with opponents of the project, has argued that many of the indirect supply jobs would be outside the United States because about $1.7 billion worth of steel will be purchased from a Russian-owned mill in Canada.

TransCanada, of course, insists that most of the pipeline would be made in Arkansas. On the other hand, DeSmogBlog notes,

TransCanada has already signed contracts for nearly 50 percent of the steel pipe for the project. A Russian company, Evraz, will manufacture roughly 40 percent in Canadian mills, and an Indian company, Welspun, is likely to produce the rest.

An independent analysis

You might be wondering if there are any Keystone XL jobs reports not funded by TransCanada. As a matter of fact, Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute has just what you’re looking for. Here are some key points from the study:

  • The construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates. 
  • The industry’s US job claims, and even the State Department’s analysis, are linked to a $7 billion KXL project budget. However, the budget for KXL that will have a bearing on US jobs figures is dramatically lower—only around $3 to $4 billion.
  • The claim that KXL will create 7,000 manufacturing jobs in the US is unsubstantiated. There is strong evidence to suggest that a large portion of the primary material input for KXL—steel pipe—will not even be produced in the US
  • The industry’s job projections fail to consider the large number of jobs that could be lost by construction of KXL. This includes jobs lost due to consumers in the Midwest paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs ($2 to $4 billion) will suppress other spending and cost jobs.
If you also consider that the Keystone XL would do almost nothing to decrease oil imports from the Middle East (see here and here), you can build a solid case for rejecting the project without even mentioning environmental impacts. Add tar sands, a dash of spilled oil in a water supply, and an extra large helping of climate change, and you’ve got one nasty concoction.
That’s why, on Sunday, thousands of activists encircled the White House to make the point: Keystone XL is not in the national interest.
Mr. Obama, are you listening?