State Department: Keystone XL Pipeline Would Only Create 35 Permanent Jobs

After temporary construction jobs, the pipeline's employment impact will be minuscule, the report says Yuri Gripas/Reuters

When the State Department released their report on the Keystone XL pipeline last month, news media focused on the report’s conclusion that the pipeline would not significantly worsen carbon pollution. The finding was broadly declared a win for advocates of the project, who are now imploring the White House to approve it.

But buried in the 11-chapter report was a less sunny detail: the Keystone XL would create only 35 permanent jobs after the one or two years of construction jobs dry up.

“Once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require an estimated 50 total employees: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors,” the State Department wrote.

Republican supporters of the pipeline have long said the project would be a major job creator. In 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took out a full page ad in the New York Times warning President Obama not to say "no" to "20,000 jobs," a number taken from the pipeline company's estimates.

When Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.-R) said in a speech in 2012 that the pipeline would “employ 20,000 people,” the fact-checking site PolitiFact rated his statement as “false.” PolitiFact noted that even if one were to accept the pipeline company’s job number, each “job” is counted as one “job year.” That means that if the construction project lasted two years, one employee working for two years would be counted as having two “jobs,” leaving the number of employees at somewhere closer to 10,000.

The latest State Department report, which also defines a “job” as a position filled for one year, estimates that the project would create 16,100 jobs directly related to Keystone XL. Another approximately 26,000 year-long jobs would created indirectly (restaurant and store workers, for example, needed to accommodate the temporarily increased population along the pipeline). That brings the State Department’s total to 42,100 year-long jobs.

Included in that number, the report estimates that about 10,400 seasonal workers would be recruited for construction of the pipeline for jobs lasting four to eight months. If those short stints are calculated into an average annual jobs, that works out to 3,900 jobs over one year of construction, or 1,950 jobs each year for two years, the State Department wrote. After one to two years, the vast majority would leave, and 35 people would be permanently employed, according to the report.

Last year, Obama dismissed the claim that the pipeline could reduce unemployment in the U.S., calling the potential impact of Keystone XL a "blip" in terms of job creation.

“Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the New York Times. “There is no evidence that that’s true. 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 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.”

A 2011 study conducted by Cornell University’s ILR Global Labor Institute, which works with trade unions on environmental and other challenges, concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline could actually destroy more jobs than it created. The study takes into account job loss that would be caused if Midwesterners end up paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon of gas due to the pipeline diverting oil from Midwest refineries to the Gulf region.

"Furthermore, pipeline spills, pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions incur significant human health and economic costs, thus eliminating jobs," Sean Sweeney, director of the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute, said in a statement.

For now, the White House says Obama will wait at least 90 days from the release of the State Department report before deciding whether to approve the pipeline.

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