Keystone XL Oil Pipeline: A Symbolic Wrestle Steeped In Fuzzy Math

This is the second of two articles in regards to the controversy surrounding the event of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The primary installment might be discovered right here.

At the tip of September, the mayor of tiny Atkinson, Neb., sat calmly ready for an invasion. David Frederick’s rural outpost of about 1,000 residents, set along the northeastern edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills, was about to see its inhabitants briefly swelled by a phalanx of U.S. State Division officials, itinerant union laborers, ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and reporters.

The crowds were headed Frederick’s approach for a final public airing of opinions along the proposed route of the Keystone XL, a 1,seven hundred-mile stretch of pipe and pumps that may hyperlink a mammoth oil patch in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Nebraska would account for 257 of these miles, and maps show the proposed pipeline slicing clear through the state’s midsection, passing a few miles west of Atkinson.

However there are also numerous different towns near the proposed oil route, and it wasn’t clear even to Frederick how Atkinson’s high school gymnasium had been chosen for the national spotlight. “I’ve never been straight contacted,” the mayor stated in his tidy Important Avenue office simply hours earlier than the throngs arrived. “This was very a lot presented as, ‘The State Division is having a social gathering, you are going to host it and you are in charge of cleansing up afterward.’ “

Oil pipelines can have the same approach of just exhibiting up, and as environmental teams or native residents dispute such landgrabs, acrimony tends to follow. Even for a pipeline, though, the debate surrounding the Keystone XL project has been rancorous. Expenses of excessive-stage malfeasance and corporate bullying mingle with accusations of environmental alarmism and energy ignorance in what arguably has grow to be essentially the most hotly debated stretch of oil pipeline within the nation’s history.

For greater than three years, the State Department, which should grant a permit for the undertaking to cross the U.S. border, has deliberated over the pipeline’s potential impacts and whether it is within the national curiosity. The rhetorical skirmishing has grow to be increasingly heated throughout that time, with pipeline opponents accusing State of pandering to business while supporters cost anti-oil activists with hijacking the difficulty to additional their trigger.

Much of the attention so far has targeted on the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline, as well as the State Department’s dealing with of the evaluate. But an in depth examination of other facets of the venture means that the struggle is in some ways a symbolic one, pitting supporters of fresh power against those who say fossil fuels aren’t going away anytime soon. At the identical time, the contributions of Keystone XL to employment and vitality safety in the United States usually do not match the claims of its proponents — and TransCanada, the corporate behind the challenge, is often responsible of fudging the numbers to make its case for the pipeline.

For his half, Mayor Frederick mentioned he does not thoughts the pipeline. He just wishes it went around, relatively than through, the huge aquifer that feeds his neighborhood and a whole bunch of others across that part of the American breadbasket. He additionally stated he wasn’t positive what his town stood to gain by having the line cross through the realm. “I’m not sure how it will affect our native economy,” Frederick stated. “However that is how I’m going to be as a businessman and an area taxpayer. I wish to know, what’s our benefit?”


More than anything, the raging debate over Keystone XL demonstrates the problem of generating answers universally accepted as “right.” Oil interests, for instance, concede that harvesting oil from the tar sands for eventual end-use in vehicles weighs more closely on the atmosphere than the typical oil-to-gasoline life cycle, however specialists differ on the extent of the injury. Estimates of the increase in carbon footprint have ranged from 5 %, a determine favored by industry, to more than 30 p.c, in keeping with an analysis by the Pure Assets Defense Council.

Given the various figures, analysts can both reject or verify the oft-repeated declare, first made by former Vice President Al Gore, that “gasoline made from the tar sands gives a Toyota Prius the identical impact on local weather as a Hummer using gasoline made from oil.”

Alberta’s tar sands have a giant

carbon footprint, although they differ

Name Michael Levi a skeptic on that point. The director of this system on Vitality Security and Climate Change at the Council on Overseas Relations, Levi used 15 p.c as his benchmark and, after making use of a bit of arithmetic to the Hummer aphorism, declared it untrue. Using the 15 p.c determine, a Hummer operating on standard oil continues to be 4.Three times extra carbon intensive than a Prius using gasoline derived from tar sands oil.

“It’s just lifeless flawed,” Levi said. “I am unable to consider that in over two years Gore hasn’t bothered to right this.”

When requested about the critique, Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider handed on an evidence from the former vice president’s 2009 ebook “Our Selection,” which first introduced the Hummer analogy. Using extraction and processing information from a 2008 Nationwide Vitality Technology Laboratory report, Gore decided that the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions for tar sands in comparison with typical oil was “roughly 5-to-one.”

The Division of Vitality, meanwhile, provides the Prius only a three-to-one advantage over the Hummer in gas effectivity. “The better CO2 emissions ensuing from the extraction and processing of oil from tar sands,” Gore wrote, “overwhelm the gasoline economy benefits of a Prius.”

Levi argued, nonetheless, that the gas-effectivity advantages of a Prius apply not just to the emissions that arise during “extraction and processing” of oil, but to discharges from the tailpipe. “Examine two worlds,” he mentioned. “In the first, we all drive Hummers and use regular oil; in the second, we all drive Priuses and use oil-sands crude. Which is worse for the climate? There is zero question as to the correct answer.”

Regardless of his assist for the pipeline, Levi has similar contempt for the rhetoric of some Keystone XL advocates — together with an argument advanced in a pro-pipeline type letter he recently acquired from the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a challenge of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s preeminent business foyer.

Among different issues, the institute’s letter claimed the Keystone XL project would “immediately create 20,000 jobs along the pipeline route. Furthermore, financial impact research show that 250,000 permanent jobs will likely be created over the long term.”

Wire mesh corrugated

These 250,000 jobs, Levi says, are based mostly on economic modeling of Canadian oil manufacturing more generally, and they’ve only a limited connection to whether or not or not the Keystone XL pipeline is constructed. “But they do not inform you that,” he said. Furthermore, the estimate is likely too excessive by not less than a factor of 10, Levi stated, although pinning a exact quantity on the influence is tough given the opaque nature of the study that it’s based on.

“I do not see any purpose to block the Keystone XL pipeline, so long as native issues in Nebraska are pretty addressed, something that should not pose a excessive hurdle,” Levi wrote in a blog put up deconstructing the industry job projection last week. “The Keystone XL debate is a distraction from issues that basically matter to the future of U.S. energy and climate coverage.”

“So long as the controversy is entrance and heart, though,” he added, “appropriate info can be good.”


A fixation on job estimates has turn into an integral part of pushing the Keystone XL undertaking — notably by TransCanada and oil business representatives, as well as among the project’s largely Republican backers in the House, who’ve aggressively lobbied the State Division to expedite approval of a permit.

“This pipeline venture is about growing our vitality safety and placing America again to work,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) stated in August, after the State Department issued its remaining environmental assessment. Like its previous iterations, that assessment concluded that the dangers of the pipeline have been restricted.

“Completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline extension,” Upton continued, “will deliver over 1.Four million barrels of oil per day into U.S. markets and create more than 100,000 American jobs.”

That six-figure jobs estimate got here directly from TransCanada, which sometimes cites “quite a few studies” as its supply in press statements. For all practical purposes, nonetheless, these unbiased studies are really only one study — commissioned by TransCanada and published in June 2010 by The Perryman Group, a Texas-based financial and financial consultancy headed up by M. Ray Perryman, an economist and former Baylor University professor.

Making use of what he describes as a proprietary, “dynamic enter-output” economic modeling system to the KXL project, Perryman concluded in no unsure terms that the pipeline affords Individuals substantial benefits. “In addition to the sizable economic stimulus generated by the development and growth of the pipeline, the more stable supply of oil will result in different positive outcomes,” he said at the outset of his 56-page report.

His final estimate: The pipeline would create “118,964 individual-years of employment.” (Individual-years is economics-speak for the equivalent of 1 particular person working for one yr — an essential distinction from “permanent jobs,” because development jobs are by nature non permanent.)

XL faced off with opponents of the

Perryman’s numbers rapidly drew rebuttals, however few have been as thorough because the one which got here from Ian Goodman, a California-based mostly marketing consultant. A collaboration with researchers on the Cornell Labor Institute, his evaluation concluded, amongst different things, that the $7 billion number used to explain the price of the undertaking was deceptive, as a result of it included expenditures on the Canadian facet of the border that wouldn’t create American jobs. A considerable chunk of the $7 billion had additionally already been spent on, amongst other issues, constructing a connection between Steele City, Neb., and Cushing, Okla., the Cornell workforce argued. And a sizable share of supplies for the pipeline would be obtained from overseas markets, further driving down home expenditures.

By Goodman’s estimates, the precise place to begin for calculating the financial influence of Keystone XL in the United States was someplace between $3 billion and $4 billion.

The Cornell analysis additionally dinged Perryman for utilizing his own proprietary model, making it troublesome to know the way he’d arrived on the fortuitous economic ripples described in his report — together with tens of thousands of oblique jobs in retail, printing and publishing and other ancillary industries that he claimed could be spurred by the pipeline.

Goodman and the Cornell workforce concluded that Keystone XL, while definitely a job-creator, couldn’t possibly generate nearly 120,000 total jobs. In conversations with The Huffington Post after the publication of the Cornell research, Goodman additional refined his analysis, suggesting that, in truth, “the incremental stimulus to the U.S. economy from KXL being built could solely be about $2.Three billion,” and have so small an impression on jobs as to be virtually meaningless.

“The incremental job impacts from building KXL are, at best, spherical-off error for the states along the pipeline route,” Goodman stated, “and especially for the broader regional and nationwide economies.”

The direct building and manufacturing jobs, Goodman concluded, could be momentary and transient, with pipeline builders being imported, for probably the most part, to camps along the deliberate route. The largest boon would accrue to Texas and Oklahoma, Goodman prompt, where expert pipeline labor is already readily available, meaning that extra distant outposts, like Mayor Frederick’s city of Atkinson, Neb., would seemingly see few everlasting jobs created.

Goodman is working with Cornell on an updated analysis.

Perryman disputes these findings, arguing, for starters, that the Cushing extension was included in his analysis because on the time it had not yet been accomplished, and extra broadly, as a result of it was vital to understanding the project’s total worth to the United States.

“Excluding it from our prior analysis would have been inappropriate,” Perryman mentioned.

In an electronic mail, Perryman also stated that “just about all major fashions are proprietary” and that they ought to be, given the many years invested in growing ones like his. He additionally stated that his evaluation solely considered the U.S. portion of the Keystone XL funds, and that it had factored out the materials that can be procured exterior the United States, bringing his place to begin to a bit lower than $5 billion in domestic expenditures.

In fact, in a down financial system, any job is difficult to dismiss — and Keystone XL enjoys sturdy assist among labor unions possible to benefit. And Perryman suggested the intense scrutiny of his report is a bit like counting angels on the pinnacle of a pin. “Like all fashions, it is not good. Each undertaking is different, productivity can evolve forward of the information [and] typical purchasing patterns might not be followed,” he said. “You can’t plan a challenge of this nature to the penny prematurely.”

Such caveats, in fact, have not stopped TransCanada from describing the pipeline as a $7 billion stimulus to the U.S. economy — nor from issuing ever-larger jobs estimates that go effectively past Perryman’s.

“Within days of receiving regulatory approval,” the company reported in a press release attending a go to to Washington final month by TransCanada’s chief executive, Russ Girling, “Keystone XL would create 20,000 development and manufacturing jobs in the U.S throughout the construction section. This contains welders, pipe-fitters, heavy equipment operators, engineers and lots of different trades. Investing billions in the financial system would also lead to the creation of 118,000 spin-off jobs as local companies profit from workers staying in accommodations, eating in restaurants and TransCanada buying gear and supplies.”

By that tally, Keystone XL would represent nearly 140,000 jobs, and this accounting was repeated in public statements made by TransCanada on not less than three other occasions not too long ago.

When requested to clarify, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard initially stated the company’s tally was sound. “The 118,000 is indirect/spin-off jobs as per Perryman,” Howard stated in an email. The remaining jobs, he stated, arise from 13,000 construction hires and 7,000 manufacturing jobs. Later, he corrected this, saying that the 118,000 number represented each direct and indirect jobs, as per Perryman. “That features the 20,000 jobs throughout the development and manufacturing phases of KXL,” Howard stated.

The correction was misplaced on the National Affiliation of Manufacturers, which parroted the erroneous increased numbers last Wednesday in an attraction to the State Division to approve the project.

TransCanada’s pipeline president, Alex Pourbaix, rankled at the notion that his firm could be goosing the jobs numbers. “Let me just say, the suggestion that we’re going to construct a $7 billion pipeline over 1,700 miles, damaged up into 17 building segments and 30 pump stations and we’re not going to create vital quantities of jobs, is one of the extra ridiculous statements that I’ve ever heard,” he said.

But Goodman and the Cornell team will not be the only ones questioning TransCanada’s math.

CFR’s Levi pointed the higher extrapolation — 250,000 jobs — that is now being utilized by business advocates, in addition to by TransCanada itself. That number additionally seems to come back from Perryman, who describes it as the variety of potential jobs — or technically, “particular person-years of employment” — arising from the “everlasting increase in stable oil supplies associated with the implementation of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Levi challenged that assertion on his blog last week, finding that it was possible 10 times too excessive — though he mentioned precise accounting was all however unimaginable.

“I’m not claiming that Keystone XL will create 7,000 or eight,000 or 40,000 jobs. I discover the entire method of the Perryman examine suspicious,” he wrote. “What I am saying is that even when you purchase its overall methodology, fixing the essential numbers leads you to a lot lower jobs estimates.”


TransCanada and its supporters within the U.S. have long argued that the advantages of Keystone XL are all but obvious.

The United States imported roughly 2 million barrels of oil each day — both typical and heavy stuff from the oil sands — from Canada in 2010, which represents about 22 percent of total imports, in response to industry statistics. Constructing the pipeline would add capability for as a lot as seven hundred,000 each day barrels of crude oil to the 600,000 barrels carried on current legs of the Keystone network. And all of it, supporters say, would be coming from a pleasant, safe supply north of the border.

TransCanada’s pipeline division,

calls the suggestion that Keystone XL

will not create plenty of jobs “ridiculous.”

It will additionally feed a hungry and expanding fleet of refiners on the Gulf Coast whose amenities are designed to handle the heavy type of crude that might circulation from Canada’s tar sands. Historically, these refiners have received their supply of heavy crude — some 2.9 million barrels per day — from Mexico and Venezuela, and to a lesser extent from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. But Mexico’s oil sources have been in regular decline, and Venezuela has been pulling back on its deliveries as it eyes other markets for its crude — principally China.

If that slackening in provide isn’t changed with product from Canada, pipeline backers say, refiners within the Gulf will get it one way or one other — most probably by upping imported waterborne supplies from the Mideast or Nigeria.

“You may have this big refining heart in the U.S. dealing with a decline of their present provide, after which you will have, about 1,500 miles north of there in Alberta, the second largest reserves of crude oil on the planet in the Alberta oil sands,” mentioned Pourbaix, TransCanada’s pipeline president. “That’s 175 billion barrels of recoverable reserves at right this moment’s costs. And I feel it simply makes lots of sense to attach that very, very vital provide source from a reliable and trusted ally of the U.S. … to the very important refinery demand down within the U.S.”

Danielle Droitsch, a senior lawyer with the Pure Assets Protection Counsel and director of the group’s Canada mission, disputes most of the business talking factors, however she also mentioned this kind of frank deconstruction of power market push-and-pull is never presented to the American public. Slightly, she says, they are fed a gentle weight-reduction plan of rosy job projections and nebulous discuss power safety.

“The line that we keep hearing is that TransCanada is purported to be some kind of Pied Piper, promising jobs and safety to whoever will listen,” Droitsch stated. “However make no mistake, the real motive is to boost the profits of international oil companies.”

“We know that this is not oil for the United States,” she added. “That is an export pipeline.”

An analysis launched in August by the clean-power advocacy group Oil Change Worldwide made this similar case — pointing to a gentle enhance in the export of refined merchandise out of the Gulf, and plans by customers for Keystone XL’s crude to proceed the trend.

Whether this must be shocking or even controversial is an open question. TransCanada, the oil producers in Alberta and the shippers who’ve signed lengthy-term contracts to make use of the pipeline — including large worldwide outfits like Valero, Suncor Vitality, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Whole — usually are not eager on Keystone XL because they want Americans to feel secure and employed. They wish to make cash. Right now, the Alberta oil patch is, for probably the most part, completely landlocked, and everybody in the tar sands meals chain would like nothing greater than to have a conduit to the global oil market.

Jackie Forrest, the Calgary-primarily based director of oil sands evaluation for IHS CERA, a global power market research agency, famous that exports of refined oil products — chiefly diesel gas — have lengthy been part of the Gulf Coast’s business, albeit a very small one. The overwhelming majority of refined products arising from tar sands oil, she stated, could be consumed in the United States — though she did say that exports are growing, given a rising thirst for diesel gasoline in Europe and Latin America.

“This demand has been a business opportunity for U.S. refiners, who can competitively supply these merchandise and make more cash from their underutilized refining property,” Forrest stated. “This dynamic has been happening for some time and has no relation to the Keystone XL resolution. With or with out the brand new pipeline, the U.S. will export refined merchandise.”

That’s a variant on an argument frequently repeated by these inclined to approve the pipeline: block Keystone XL, and the dynamics of the market dictate that one other pipeline proposal will sooner or later crop as much as substitute it.

“This most likely does not sound like a ethical argument to environmentalists, but if we do not buy it, it isn’t going to sit down in the bottom,” mentioned Charles Ebinger, the director of the Power Security Initiative on the Brookings Establishment. “TransCanada, or another person, will probably ship it out elsewhere.”

Indeed, one natural query raised by the Keystone XL debate is why a pipeline is not merely run westward, to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. Such a route could be less than half as long as Keystone XL’s journey to Texas.

The chief answer is that, for so long as it is, Keystone XL’s current route represents the path of least resistance.

Philip Okay. Verleger, Jr., a senior adviser to The Brattle Group and the president of PKVerleger LLC, a outstanding vitality market consultancy, identified in a current analysis of the KXL that a westward pipeline out of Alberta would require agreements with dozens of Native American tribes occupying the corridor between the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific.

The western coast of Canada can be a dense patchwork of national and provincial parks and other protected lands that may make such a pipeline significantly tough to permit, and Verleger mentioned limitations on tanker exercise in the area’s waterways go away the southbound route the one sensible one for Canadian oil pursuits. Constructing new refineries in Alberta, which may price as a lot as $2 billion each, would even be prohibitively expensive.

Such realities have solidified Keystone XL’s backers’ resolute faith that the pipeline will be built, a view that can be pushed by the insatiable thirst in economies new and outdated for oil.

U.S. oil demand is expected to dip solely barely over the next 20 years, from roughly 18.6 million barrels a day to 18.5 million barrels, based on IHS Cera, a consulting firm specializing in vitality markets. Meanwhile, China is expected to practically double its consumption throughout the identical interval to 17.5 million barrels a day. Globally, oil consumption is expected to rise from 86 million barrels a day to a hundred and ten million barrels by 2030.

Even accounting for the steady and continued uptake within the U.S. of electric automobiles and biofuels, IHS Cera’s Forrest mentioned, weaning the American economic system off oil will take multiple a long time. “In case you create a new pipeline that can take 700,000 barrels of crude out of your closest neighbor, then that’s a good factor for power security,” she said.

However clear-power advocates and pipeline critics call those projections a elementary failure of imagination. Energy security, they say, can solely come by reducing demand for oil general, via sound coverage that encourages efficiency. Some studies have recommended that U.S. Petroleum oil consumption could possibly be lower by as a lot as 10 million barrels a day over the next 20 years, by increasing the gasoline efficiency of cars, trucks and planes; bettering constructing efficiency; and other measures.

Rejiggering how America imports its oil, Keystone XL critics also argue, is unlikely to provide a lot safety. Oil is a global commodity, they notice, and it responds to advanced and often unpredictable global events — like, say, the current turmoil in Libya.

“The influence of Keystone KL can be diluted over the whole world,” Levi stated. “Certain, Canada won’t go the way of Libya. But when Libya goes approach of Libya, it impacts the entire world.”

“There is a difference between how much volatility there’s, and the way a lot you are feeling it,” he added.

Even a 2010 evaluation commissioned by the Division of Energy, which noted that “a mixture of increased Canadian crude imports and diminished U.S. product demand could primarily eliminate Middle East crude imports longer time period,” also concluded that such an outcome would have little to do with the Keystone XL.

The worldwide nature of the oil market makes it equally tough to answer one of many questions most pertinent to bizarre People: What is going to Keystone XL promise by way of decreased gasoline costs? Verleger posited final spring that Keystone XL would drive up gas costs by 10 or 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest, the place tars sands crude is at present bottlenecked.

TransCanada’s Pourbaix doesn’t deny the broader oil market mechanics, but noted that the value at the pump in the Midwest, or anyplace else, is a unique matter altogether. His point was echoed by Jackie Forrest of IHS CERA, who noted that Midwestern drivers do not presently get pleasure from any particular low cost on gasoline, regardless of the over-supply of crude there. Her organization reckons that Keystone XL will nudge fuel prices down, though in a June report, she and her co-authors also conceded that “many variables influence the price of oil.”


The yr-finish deadline for a choice by the State Department could already be slipping amid continued turmoil, which includes latest strikes by Nebraska’s governor to drive a reconsideration of the route — something that Atkinson’s Mayor Frederick helps. “I am sure the labor unions would build a superb pipeline,” he stated in a phone interview on Monday. “But that does not affect the fact that we would like it to go round our aquifer.”

Upping the ante on Monday, TransCanada urged in a press release that Nebraska’s efforts may be unconstitutional.

In the meantime, Senate Democrats raised the stakes last Wednesday after they requested that the State Division’s inspector normal examine the company’s handling of the Keystone XL permit. Amongst their issues: that TransCanada might have “improperly influenced” the collection of Cardno Entrix because the contractor for State’s environmental assessment.

Echoing a chorus from several environmental groups, the lawmakers additionally questioned whether e-mail communications between State Division staff and TransCanada representatives, obtained by the environmental group Buddies of the Earth, reveal a relationship that was too cozy or counsel an absence of objectivity — fees that the State Department has strenuously denied.

An evaluation of State’s final environmental evaluation by the Environmental Safety Agency can be looming. One other detrimental evaluate may pressure the issue to the White Home Council on Environmental Quality, which is liable for helping to search out consensus when companies disagree.

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