Published On: Fri, May 16th, 2014

No to the Keystone XL Pipeline

By Greg Zafros

Let’s just be straight forward about it. The XL Pipeline will do nothing to increase the energy independence of the United States and almost nothing to improve the jobs situation here as well. So while advocates, pundits and those ignorant viewers who watch Fox News tout the wonders of the pipeline, the truth is that almost none of what they say is, well, true.

First off, the pipeline has nothing to do with “American” energy independence. The pipeline is a project of TransCanada Corporation which, as you might guess, is not an American company. Its purpose would be to transport Canadian tar sands oil from Canada across the United States to Texas where it would be processed and then put in tankers to be exported. There are already pipelines connecting Canada to the US that could transport the oil to refineries in the US for use in the US, but this is not the plan. In fact, there already is a pipeline, owned by TransCanada, that starts at the same place (Alberta, Canada) and ends at the same place (Texas) as the proposed XL Pipeline. That existing pipeline goes by way of Illinois where much of the oil is provided to refineries there for use in the US. But who wants that? You can’t export oil from Illinois. Better to send it straight to Texas.

TransCanada could have built a pipeline across Canada to do the same thing, but the Canadians did not want it. The easy solution was to turn to their money-grubbing neighbors to the South. The vested interests who will profit directly from the construction of yet another pipeline have gone all out to promote the pipeline as the be-all and end-all to our economic problems.

That leads us to the issue of jobs. Since conservatives and Republicans who caused the disastrous loss of jobs in the US nearly a decade ago still have no idea of what to do about it – other than to try to blame President Obama – the pipeline has become their only selling point. If that is all they’ve got, they need to make it sound like it really is something. So, in the beginning they touted the couple of thousand jobs that would be created by the actual construction of the pipeline. Initial job estimates were around 5,000 jobs, but that isn’t enough to establish it as good political policy. So the number kept creeping up. Next, 10,000 jobs, then 25,000 until I think it reached 52 million according to some advocates. The number being tossed around now is something like 42,000 jobs although some are still quoting a number above 100,000. These numbers now include not only the actual construction jobs, which would still only be in the couple of thousands, but every single ancillary job that might gain a shekel or two from the project.

They forget to mention a couple of things, of course. First of all, these are only temporary jobs. Even the number of 42,000, itself, is not actually jobs, but job/years. With the project expecting to take two years, that means that that number, no matter how valid or invalid, might only be 21,000. And how many of these are new jobs and how many are just job transfers. Buying groceries at locations along the pipeline route might increase jobs there, but may lead to the loss of jobs elsewhere. A study by Cornell University indicates that the construction of the pipeline might actually reduce the number of jobs in the US. This is because, among other things, a substantial portion of the materials may end up being produced outside the US and thus hurt American industry. Remember, the pipeline is being build by a Canadian company, not an American company.

When the unemployment rate fell slightly in 2010, primarily due to the creation of 1.2 million temporary census jobs, conservatives complained that this had no real impact on the job situation. The XL Pipeline’s 21,000 temporary jobs, however, are supposed to have a significant impact on our economy. Go figure.

The total number of “permanent” jobs created by the pipeline when it is completed, if it ever is, is somewhere between 35 and 50. That’s not 35,000 to 50,000, just 35 to 50, period. Republicans better hope that President Obama doesn’t approve the pipeline now. If he does, then he will get all the credit for those temporary construction jobs. Then, if the Republicans win the presidential election in 2016, when all those temporary jobs disappear, the economy will come crashing down on the Republican’s watch. This reminds me of that old saying “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about the environmental issues. While there are valid concerns for the environment, progressives/liberals do themselves a disservice by using this as their only argument. The economic arguments of energy independence and jobs are nothing more than myths and this could and should be reason enough to cancel the pipeline. Unfortunately, pipeline opponents wouldn’t know a good campaign issue if it hit them in the face.