Senator Pushes Keystone XL Pipeline With Egregiously Misleading Statistic

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

This April 16, 2014, file photo shows Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., right, joined by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as he speaks to media in Vilnius, Lithuania.

As the 113th Congress ends and the 114th Congress begins, at least one thing remains the same: Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are still using the misleading claim that the controversial project will create 42,000 jobs.

Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told host Chuck Todd that a bill to approve Keystone XL — the pipeline proposal that would send up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil per day down to Gulf Coast refineries — would be the first legislation sent to President Obama’s desk in 2015. And Obama should sign it, Barrasso said, noting that the pipeline would mean 42,000 new jobs.

“[Obama’s] own State Department said it’s 42,000 new jobs,” Barrasso said. “He’s going to have to decide between jobs and the extreme supporters of not having the pipeline.”

Problem is, Barrasso left out all the caveats that the State Department laid out regarding how many jobs Keystone XL would create. The State Department did not say the Keystone XL pipeline would create 42,000 new jobs. Instead, it said the project would “support” 42,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, 99 percent of which would be temporary, not lasting more than the two years it would take to construct. Once the project is completed, the State Department estimates that the pipeline would only create 35 full-time jobs, and 15 temporary contractors.

The company behind the project, TransCanada, has a different estimate, which is still not much closer to the 42,000 figure. The company has estimated that the pipeline would create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years.

Even if the 42,000 jobs figure did represent full-time, long-term jobs, it would not represent a big boost for the economy. As Philip Bump noted in the Washington Post last year, the U.S. economy adds about 50,000 jobs per week, and about 229,000 jobs per month on average.

Bump’s point? “Even if the 42,000 figure were hard, fast, and long-term, the effect on the national economy would still be modest,” he writes. “But that figure isn’t hard, fast, or long-term.”

The reality of the jobs estimate paints a different picture than the one Barrasso created on Sunday: that approving or rejecting Keystone XL is a simple decision between “jobs and the extreme supporters of not having the pipeline.” The pipeline would not create a significant enough number jobs to boost the economy, nor would many consider the anti-Keystone XL movement “extreme.” While most Americans support the project, 31 percent oppose it, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Environmentalists’ oppose the Keystone XL pipeline mainly because of the type of oil it would carry. Canadian tar sands oil is more carbon intensive than other types of oil, and harder than conventional oil to clean up when it spills. The carbon intensity of the fuel is a problem for those concerned about climate change, who see the approval of Keystone XL as a sign that President Obama is not serious about transitioning to a low-emission energy system.