Keystone XL Pipeline Could Cost More Jobs Than It Creates

The proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil extracted from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands through six states: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Although many proponents of the pipeline make a big deal about the jobs it would create, the six states would only gain about 20 permanent pipeline operation jobs, according to a report by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute. Meanwhile, the agricultural and tourism sectors that are already major employers in those states would be affected greatly by a major spill.

The Keystone XL pipeline would go right through “America’s breadbasket.” Agricultural and rangeland make up 79 percent of the land that would be affected by the pipeline. The agricultural sector is a major source of employment in the six states. About 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the six states. The total agricultural output for the six states is $76.3 billion.

The report mentions an oil spill which occurred last year when an ExxonMobil oil pipeline ruptured and spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. The oil spill contaminated 3,200 acres, most of it farmland and ranchland. Property owners in the affected area filed a lawsuit against the oil company.

The pipeline would cross recreational areas, including federal public lands, state parks and forests, and national historic trails. There are about 780,000 workers employed in the tourism sector in the six states, and tourism spending in those states totaled over $67 billion in 2009.

The pipeline would cross hundreds of bodies of water, including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and the Ogallala and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer supplies 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S. and supplies two million people with drinking water. Water contamination would have “significant and economic costs,” according to the report, which cites a study by Dr. John Stansbury at the University of Nebraska which estimated that 91 significant Keystone XL spills can be expected over 50 years.

“This report turns the political discussions around job creation on its head,” said Danielle Droitsch, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The pipeline will be an economic liability.”

The alternative route of renewable energy

The report points out an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline: renewable energy. For every $1 million invested in renewable energy, 16.7 jobs are created. Conversely, for very $1 million invested in fossil fuels, only 5.3 jobs are invested (Source: American Center for Progress). Investing $150 billion in fossil fuels would create about 788,000 jobs, but investing the same amount in renewables would create over 2.5 million jobs. The report gives a specific example:  Coal provides 49 percent of the nation’s electricity, and employs about 80,000 people in mining, but wind only generates one percent of the nation’s electricity and employs about 85,000 people.

Last year, the U.S. passed China to become the world’s top investor in renewable energy. The U.S. leads the world in wind power generation, and during the last four years, over a third of the country’s new power capacity has come from wind. Solar power also grew by almost 50 percent a year since 2005, including a 70 percent growth rate in the first half of 2011. Continuing along that trajectory would create a significant amount of jobs.

Photo credits: Flickr user, tarsandaction

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

3 responses

  1. Green
    Energy is definitely the right direction for this nation both in an economic
    and environmental sense. We could even be the leaders in the field on such a
    resource. But we need to be realistic about what the demand is now and, how we
    get to there from here?  Embracing our
    current needs is going to be a crucial step in how we get to our future
    desires. Projects such as the Keystone Pipeline can help us to make the
    connection in such a gap ( In infrastructure projects like these, work is
    mostly temporary so you end up having to move to the next project so the possibility
    of future endeavors the companies and for the workers themselves can grow. But we
    need to invest in the here and now to know what to do with the future.

  2. Yes, we should do what all statist/liberal/progressive mindless sheep want.  There is no recourse for anyone when a hypothetical straw argument torpedoes the hell out of reason.  That which is seen and that which is unseen doesn’t apply to what hasn’t happened yet.  Of course, not allowing the pipeline will prevent spills.  It could also force the hand of the Canadian government with the financial support of the oil companies to go after the Alberta tar sands.  The hypothetical BS of progressives has gone on long enough.  Either join the principled left or libertarians or settle in with the state, bankers, social conservatives, and counterproductive special interest lobbyists.  

  3. what a load of misleading crap. 49% of our energy needs with 80,000 employees, 1% of our energy needs with the same amount of employees. if the goal is to create unproductive work just head to dc or sacramento, they greatly exceed in terms of non-productive efforts. 

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