Do the Math: Keystone XL Will Create Jobs & Revenue for Americans

In contrast to the majority of Americans who have time and time again expressed their support for the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil fuel opponent Bill McKibben of is taking his latest road show to Washington this week, and dragging his apocalyptic numbers on climate change with him.

This particular stop for McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour will focus on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project McKibben claims will tarnish President Obama’s legacy should he approve it in his second term.

The reality is that this project, and the oil sands crude it will transport, will deliver concrete benefits to Americans while applying some of the most technically advanced and environmentally sound practices in the industry. This weekend, Bill McKibben will try to convince Washingtonians that Keystone XL and the oil sands will contribute to one big climate disaster. But here are several reasons why that’s simply not the truth:

1)     Jobs & the economy are American priorities

  • The U.S. unemployment rate is just under 8 percent, which is 2 percent higher than the historic average. The President himself said this week that jobs and the economy are his administration’s focus in his new term:

“There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.” (NYT, 11/16)

  • Keystone XL is a shovel-ready project that will start the next Obama administration on the right path toward a healthier economy. Consider:

    • The Keystone XL, including the Gulf Coast Project, would directly create 20,000 jobs: 13,000 in construction and 7,000 in manufacturing.
    • Oil sands development linked to Keystone XL could support 117,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035.
    • The combined Keystone XL and Gulf Coast projects will inject $20 billion into the U.S. economy and pay over $5 billion in taxes to local counties over their lifetime.
    • The states along the pipeline route- Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas- are collectively projected to receive $5.2 billion in property taxes from TransCanada throughout the operating life of the pipeline.

2)     McKibben cites some misleading numbers to make his climate case.

  • McKibben often quotes James Hansen, and will no doubt do so in D.C. Let’s first consider Hansen’s history of assigning carbon totals to the oil sands. Back in June 2011, he claimed that Alberta’s oil sands resources contain “at least” 400 gigatons of carbon, but changed his mind in May 2012 and ratcheted that number back to 240 gigatonsa difference of 40 percent.
  • Andrew Leach, a researcher at the World Resources Institute, examined Hansen’s 2011 numbers and concluded that Canada would have to burn 2.4 trillion barrels of oil to get to Hansen’s total – or about 40 percent more oil than the total in-place resources found in the Canadian oil sands.
  • Leach also noted that it would take until the year 3316 to get the amount of oil out of the ground that Hansen referenced in 2011.
  • Hansen and McKibben also use the figure for as-yet discovered, technically recoverable oil reserves in Canada (320 billion barrels) rather than the proven reserves (170 billion barrels) – a difference of 86 percent.

3)     Oil sands crude is comparable to conventional crude oils and the industry is advancing significant environmental technologies.

  • To put emissions in perspective, the oil sands industry accounts for approximately 7 percent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and just over 0.1 percent of global GHG emissions.
  •  Since 1990, thanks in part to mandatory emissions reductions developed by the Alberta Government, GHG emissions associated with every barrel of Canadian oil sands crude produced have been reduced by 26 percent.
  • Technology is leading the way in “dealing with climate change,” as McKibben suggests that energy companies do. A prime example of how the oil sands industry is addressing emissions can be seen at Shell’s Quest project, which is the first to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology at an oil sands extraction site. Quest will capture more than one million tonnes of CO2 per year from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader – the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road. While energy extraction may release carbon from the ground, energy companies are leading the way in putting it back.
  • According to IHS CERA, the average barrel of oil sands crude refined in the United States is only 9 percent higher than the average crude oil refined here – hardly the “monster” that Hansen and McKibben have portrayed. That’s because so many oil sands opponents fail to analyze the resource on a well-to-wheels basis, which accounts for the combustion phase of which accounts for 70-80 percent of emissions in the life of a fuel, no matter if it comes from West Texas or Alberta.

4)     At the end of the day, Keystone XL and oil sands develop continues to have strong support.

  • According to API’s exit polls during last week’s election, 75 percent of Americans support building the Keystone XL. Don’t want to believe industry polling? Then believe Pew, the Washington Post, Rasmussen Reports and Gallup, who have each conducted a public poll on KXL between February and July of this year. In each poll, the majority of Americans voted in favor of the project.
  • Union and small businesses continue to get behind Keystone XL. Case in point: America’s Building Trades Unions, who just yesterday urged President Obama to move quickly on the project’s approval. From the group’s press release:

“[We] value our nation’s environment. Thousands of our members enjoy hunting, fishing, and a multitude of outdoor recreational activities. Further, TransCanada has already agreed to go above and beyond the current industry norm … only the safest, most experienced and qualified craft workers from America’s Building Trades Unions will be deployed to ensure the safe construction of this pipeline.”

  • Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, nine Democrats and 9 Republicans, requested a meeting with President Obama to discuss approving the Keystone XL pipeline. In a letter to the President, the senators note:

“Setting politics aside: Nothing has changed about the thousands of jobs that Keystone XL will create … And nothing has changed about the need for America to remain a place where businesses can still build things.”


  1. elisabeth says:

    On point number 2: If climate scientist James Hansen has lowered his estimates to 240 gigatons, why do you keep using his earlier, higher estimate when criticizing his numbers? He has lowered the estimate, and you don’t address that. That lower amount is still a huge problem for the climate. As for jobs, if we provide jobs but destroy the climate and sicken people, what is the point? We need jobs AND a safe environment, and we should be figuring out a way to do both. You don’t address the carbon release from razing ancient forests to tap tar sands oil either (that should be illegal)….or the water and energy needed to process the tar sands. Or the poisonous mess being created in Alberta. For me, the bottom line is scientists say that burning fossil fuels destroys the climate. We should be shifting direction as quickly as possible. Perfecting techniques to get yet more fossil fuels from the earth is a waste of time we don’t have. It’s a dangerous distraction. These fossil fuels have been wonderful to use, but now we know they are disrupting the climate — which costs lives and billions of dollars in damage. Also, many of the products made with fossil fuels are toxic to the environment and human health. We need to start the transition from fossil fuels now. It won’t be easy….some have compared it with shifting the economy from a system that relied on enslaved humans. That was a challenge too. But it absolutely had to be done.

  2. harry says:

    Looks like there may be a huge impact on the rivers in Alberta, what do you say?

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