President Barack Obama took some energy industry experts by surprise when he remarked that the Keystone XL pipeline project awaiting State Department approval wouldn't do much for job creation during an interview with The New York Times.
"Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator [but] there is no evidence that that's true," Obama said in the interview published Sunday. "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…and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100."
But a State Department draft of the environmental impact study, released in March said the Keystone project would support up to 42,000 jobs, "including direct, indirect and induced effects…over a 1-to 2-year construction period."
The draft report's executive summary did note that most of the jobs would be lost once the pipeline was up and running.
"Once in place, the labor requirements for pipeline operations are relatively minor," the report said. "Operation of the proposed project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts."
Republicans have repeatedly called for the president to approve the pipeline project which would connect oil sands in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries saying it will spur job growth and help the U.S. become more energy independent. House Speaker John Boehner, in a video to supporters earlier this year, said the project would create "tens of thousands of new American jobs."
Obama, however, said the construction jobs would be a "blip relative to the need."
"So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States," he said. "In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can't ship some of that oil to world markets."
Environmentalists have tried to derail the project, frequently holding protests outside the White House and trying to rally the public against its approval.
Brigham McCown worked within the Department of Transportation during the George W. Bush administration and was in charge of pipeline safety. Now he works for an energy consulting firm pushing for approval of the Keystone project, and says he was surprised by Obama's negative comments. He hopes the administration will stick to its promise of weighing the project on its merits rather than politics.
"The president has already approved other, similar projects so the conventional wisdom is that he will approve this project," McCown says. "So I think it is fair to say these remarks caught some folks by surprise. I assume these are the talking points his staff gave him and I think it's unfortunate."