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5 Key Selling Points of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, Debunked

For Earth Day, we present stark realities to contrast to the positive Keystone XL spin.
 
 
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The battle lines are drawn. On one side stands Big Oil, most of Congress, the Tea Party and the Canadian government — and a majority of Americans, according to the polls. On the other stands environmentalists, progressives, a coalition of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Western U.S. ranchers and farmers and tribes across Indian Country.

What's all the fuss about?

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project would extend an existing pipeline from Alberta, Canada to export crude oil extracted from tar sands under Canada's Boreal Forest to refineries along the U.S. Gulf coast in Texas and Louisiana for export.

Tar sands oil crude is dirtier and more corrosive than conventional oil, emitting more greenhouse gas emissions that add to climate change, which is why it has impassioned a new environmental activism.

President Obama, faced with pressure from environmentalists and his Democratic base, has said he would approve the Keystone XL only if it did not significantly impact the environment. The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the project since the pipeline would cross an international border, concluded just that--that the pipeline would have no "significant impact"--in an environmental impact statement.

Opponents of the Keystone XL have reason to be worried. The environmental impact statement concluded that the Keystone XL would not greatly increase carbon emissions mainly because Canada would develop the energy-intensive, toxic oil sands in Alberta with or without the pipeline.

That would make it more likely that Obama would approve the project.

But opponents of the project say the environmental impact statement is suspect because it was written in part by a consultant for TransCanada, the company that wants the XL built. An investigation by the State Department's inspector general found that there was no conflict of interest in a TransCanada consultant writing an impact statement for a project TransCanada wants. This despite a Mother Jones investigation that found that the State Department had redacted the biographies of the environmental impact statement's authors, concealing extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry.

With Obama expected to announce his decision within the next several weeks (or after the 2014 elections, according to some reports), here are five key selling points for the project--debunked!

Selling Point 1: The Keystone XL will create jobs, jobs and more jobs.

Reality: It will create fewer than 2,000 temporary jobs and a few dozen permanent ones, most likely for Canadians.

When the Keystone XL first became a national story in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession, jobs were the main selling point. Several members of Congress testified that the pipeline would generate thousands of new jobs; estimates ranged between 20,000, 40,000, or even 100,000 new jobs in the jobs-hungry heartland.

Revised estimates of the jobs that pipeline would generate have dropped precipitously. The State Department's own report listed 1,950 temporary (two-year) construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

But that news has not reached the public. Polls show a majority of Americans support the project based on the perception that it would boost the economy. An ABC/Washington Post poll released in March found Americans support constructing the pipeline by a nearly 3 to 1 margin. Eighty-five percent say the pipeline would create a significant number of jobs, and  62 percent "strongly" believed so.

As for overall economic benefits, over its lifetime, the Keystone XL would cost billions more than it brings in, according to an analysis by a coalition of more than 200 high-tech business owners, venture capitalists and academics known as the Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). In March, the group sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asserting that the Keystone XL's costs would be borne by U.S. citizens, business and taxpayers, while the profits from the pipeline will add to private corporations, many of which are foreign interests. E2 also argued that without the pipeline, it is highly unlikely that Canada would try to ship its dirty crude by rail as the extra costs of such transport would eat into the already tight profit margin for the tar sands oil in a glutted market.

 
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