Keystone XL Pipeline: How Long Will the Jobs Last?

Keystone_XL_Polar_Endeavour_31930_Walter_SiegmundIs the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada wants to construct from the Alberta tar sands to southern U.S. ports worth 20,000 U.S. jobs, or 2,000?

According to TransCanada, it depends upon your political leanings.

Last week, during an interview with New York Times, President Obama suggested that TransCanada’s estimation that the project would yield as many as 20,000 U.S. jobs might be less than realistic.

“(My) hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline,” said Obama, who noted that the construction phase is only expected to take a couple of years. After that, “we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 (jobs).”

“I wouldn’t think the president would come out externally and in the media and actually agree with the Republicans regardless of what he might think in private,” responded TransCanada spokesperson, James Millar in an interview with the Calgary Herald  last Sunday.

Millar’s comment may be a bit of a surprise to some environmental groups that have expressed frustration with Obama’s apparent vacillation over the issue. After he advocated for a hold on the project in late 2011, the Sierra Club and other anti-Keystone XL pipeline advocates accused the president of going back on his word this year as the project moved ahead. Just last June, Obama stated that he would not support the Keystone XL if it would “significantly” worsen climate change.

But then, partisan standpoints do appear to play a part in the Keystone XL pipeline issue. It’s no secret that some of the Keystone XL pipeline’s largest supporters in the U.S. happen to be Republican. Last week, Huffington Post reported that at least a dozen Republican lawmakers had written “lobbyist-inspired” letters  in support of the project. The article criticized the fact that there were noticeable similarities in the wording of most of the missives.

Keystone_XL_Fuel_Barrels_Trevor_McInnisAnd TransCanada knows that it enjoys the support of Republican lawmakers. Opensecrets.org reports that TransCanada’s contributions to Republican candidates running for office in 2012 out-distanced what it contributed to Democratic candidates by more than 4 to 1. Its contributions to House representatives since 2010 have gone almost exclusively to Republican members.

As to Obama’s comment about TransCanada’s numbers, his comment sounded more like a news lead to a reporter than a fact. In the end, it will be up to the reporters on the beat to look at the historical job growth in new industries and figure out which total best fits.

But it would seem to me that the renewable energy sector could offer some insight into this issue. Like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, wind and solar take an inordinate amount of construction before they are up and running. They give back to communities in the form of secondary industry growth, but after the wind farm or solar park are up and running, well, it’s good to go. Meanwhile, they have given birth to new businesses and new opportunities.

Perhaps the question that pundits need to ask when figuring out who is right, is what Keystone will be able to offer back to communities in the form of secondary industries five, 10, 20 years from now. Will there be more pipes to lay? More shipping routes to create? Is that the plan? And how will that benefit the U.S. as we strive to move toward more sustainable energy sources?

As always, it will be interesting to see what the president’s next step is, while both sides vie for support. If anything, his latest comment suggests that he’s well aware that it’s a complicated topic, and that good fact checkers, just like those many pipe layers that TransCanada keeps talking about, need to know how to use their skills to dig.

Oil tanker photo courtesy of Walter Siegmund.

Oil barrels photo courtesy of Trevor McInnis

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.