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Number of Keystone XL Pipeline Jobs is a Matter of Dispute

How the Project Would Really Impact the American Economy

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012
Tom Pennington/Getty Images News/Getty Images

How many jobs would be created by the Keystone XL pipeline project?

Pick a number between 100 and 1 million, and surely someone somewhere has used it to estimate how many Keystone pipeline jobs would be created if construction were allowed to begin on the $7 billion project to carry oil from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

It's no joke.

The controversy over the actual number of Keystone pipeline jobs that could be created and their impact on the economy is second only to the environmental questions the project has raised.

See also: Obama Kills Keystone XL Pipeline Project – For Now

Supporters argue that the Keystone XL pipeline would create tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new jobs.

But serious questions have been raised about those projections. Critics claim those numbers are wildly inflated and nowhere close to being accurate, and say the project is environmentally problematic.

The topic became a political hot potato in the 2012 presidential race as the American economy continued to be plagued by higher than normal joblessness and home foreclosures.

Here's a brief scorecard of all the different estimates of Keystone pipeline jobs, ranging from a high of 1 million to a low of just 100.

1 Million Jobs?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, once pegged the number of potential pipeline jobs at being anywhere from "100,000 to one million."

570,000 Jobs?

TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline and says the project is "shovel-ready," gave the following jobs breakdown:

"TransCanada is poised to put 13,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline - pipefitters, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators, among other jobs - in addition to 7,000 manufacturing jobs that would be created across the U.S.

A financial analysis paid for by TransCanada also said another 250,000 to 550,000 some spin-off jobs could be created over the 100-year life of the project.

500,000 Jobs?

The American Petroleum Institute, a national trade association representing some 400 oil and natural-gas companies, claimed the pipeline would create a half million new jobs in the United States within two decades.

"Projects like this, along with additional investment in oil sands development in Canada and expansion of pipelines and refineries in the U.S. make it possible to realize an additional 500,000 U.S. jobs in 2035," the institute wrote in support of the pipeline.

250,000 Jobs?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business advocacy group, supports construction of the pipeline. Its president and chief executive officer, Thomas J. Donohue, called on the Obama administration to approve construction, saying it would create a quarter million new American jobs.

"Labor unions and the business community alike are urging President Obama to act in the best interests of our national security and our workers and approve the pipeline," Donohue said. "We can put 20,000 Americans to work right away and up to 250,000 over the life of the project."

120,000 Jobs?

Congressional Republicans have repeatedly cited the immediate number of Keystone pipeline jobs as being about 20,000, and the spin-off jobs as number in the tens of thousands more.

House Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of "destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and shipping American energy security to the Chinese" by delaying construction of the pipeline in January 2012. "There’s really no other way to put it. The president is selling out American jobs for politics."

Boehner claimed later in January 2012 that the Keystone pipeline would create "over 100,000 indirect jobs" as well some 20,000 direct jobs.

5,000 Jobs?

The U.S. Department of State, writing in an environmental impact statement, estimated the pipeline would create far fewer jobs that what the pipeline company, oil industry and project supporters in Congress suggest. The project, it said, “would result in hiring approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the three-year construction period.”

2,500 Jobs?

A Cornell University study projected far fewer pipeline jobs than another other source, citing TransCanada's own estimates to the U.S. government.

"The project will create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years, according to TransCanada’s own data supplied to the State Department," the university's Global Labor Institute wrote in report titled "Pipe Dreams." "The company’s claim that KXL will create 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs in the U.S is not substantiated."

The key finding from Cornell University was that many of the jobs claims coming from project supporters are linked to a $7 billion pipeline project. Scholars note that the budget that would have a bearing on U.S. jobs is "dramatically lower - only around $3 billion to $4 billion. A lower project budget means fewer jobs."

Concluded Cornell: The pipeline project "will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work."

100 Jobs?

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the number of permanent Keystone pipeline jobs is well below what both the government and oil industry are projecting.

“Rather than bringing us energy security, it will transport dirty Canadian oil through America's heartlands - for delivery to China and other countries. Rather than bringing us prosperity, it will leave us with a legacy of poisoned lands and waters. All for, at most, 100 permanent jobs?" Beinecke said in January 2012.

50 to 100 Jobs?

In 2013, President Barack Obama, whose own State Department was weighing whether to give TransCanada permission to build the pipeline, estimated the number of permanent jobs that could be created by work on the pipeline to be about 50 to 100.

"Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that's true. And 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 - which might take a year or two - and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people," Obama said.

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