The environmental community is buzzing about a new State Department report that says the Keystone pipeline would have a minimal environmental impact. As it turns out, the pipeline might only have a minimal economic impact as well.
The new report finds that the pipeline would create 42,100 jobs during construction, and only 50 permanent jobs after that – figures that include jobs both directly pipeline-related and positions indirectly created through the purchase of materials and the spending of pipeline employees. The report echoes a State Department draft report from March 2013, which counted 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs that operating the pipeline would generate.
Even during the construction period, the impact of those jobs in the context of the larger labor market would be minimal. Given the latest job statistics, if all 42,100 jobs were to materialize immediately, and if all 42,100 of those jobs went to currently unemployed people, the unemployment rate still would be at 6.7 percent. In addition, the report estimates construction of Keystone would add only 0.02 percent to the nation's gross domestic product.
Proponents of the pipeline, however, have said that at a time when the jobless rate is elevated, even these relatively slight numbers shouldn't be discounted – a job is a job is a job, and any that can be created should be created.
Keystone job creation counts have varied greatly, depending on who has supplied them and what's being counted. A 2012 estimate from Cornell University put the total number of construction jobs between 2,500 and 4,650 over two years. The State Department in 2011 counted 5,000 to 6,000 new construction jobs. President Barack Obama once said it would create only 2,000 construction jobs (a claim that PolitiFact later found to be false). And former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, once said "more than 100,000 jobs" would come from the pipeline.
Meanwhile, some pipeline proponents put the figure much higher. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue in 2012 said the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs "right away" and 250,000 over the project's lifetime. A 2010 report on the TransCanada Corp. website estimates that building the pipeline would create nearly 119,000 jobs. In addition, the report estimated that under "normal" oil prices, 250,000 permanent jobs would be created due to "gains in U.S. business activity" from the pipeline, and that higher oil prices would create more than 550,000 jobs.