The Keystone XL: Jobs, Energy and the Environment

A giant inflatable pipeline moving down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue made some headlines over the weekend as opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and oil sands sought influence over President Obama’s decision on the project, likely to be one of 2013’s most anticipated.

Unfortunately, the demonstration – as well as the larger argument over the 1,700-mile pipeline – focused on a false choice when it comes to the Keystone XL: jobs vs. the environment. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

This was clearly articulated by the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department last week when it called on the president to approve the pipeline, while directly challenging opponents’ claims that the Keystone XL and oil sands are “game over” for the environment:

[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.”  

Pipelines are considered to be 40 times safer than moving crude oil by rail and 100 times safer than transporting by truck. The KXL alone will replace the equivalent of 200 ocean tankers per year, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking almost 4 million cars off the road. At a press briefing at the anti-pipeline rally it was said that the Keystone XL would “pour” carbon into the atmosphere, but it sounds like quite the opposite is true.

What will flow through the pipeline is no more harmful to the environment, either. When compared on a well-to-wheels basis, oil sands crude refined in the United States has greenhouse gas emissions only 9 percent higher than the average, putting it on par with other fuels. And 70 to 80 percent of that calculation comes from the combustion phase, which is the same across all fuels, whether the crude comes from Alberta or West Texas.

Also consider the lengths to which pipeline builder TransCanada has gone to address environmental concerns. KXL has been subject to an unprecedented four-year approval process that has seen a rerouting of the project around the sensitive Sand Hills region in Nebraska. Moreover, TransCanada has agreed to 57 individual safety measures, reinforcing the State Department’s assessment in its environmental review that the pipeline would “have a degree of safety over any other.”

Can we have our environment and create jobs, too?  Without the president’s approval of the KXL, the answer is no. But if the pipeline gains approval, which the majority of Americans supported throughout 2012, we could see the creation of as many as 117,000 jobs by 2035 through oil sands development linked to the pipeline.

We can have jobs and environmental safety with the Keystone XL – while generating in the range of $20 billion to governments when combined with the Gulf Coast Project, and delivering more of the energy we need to run our economy and support our modern daily lives.


  1. Although environmentalists have issued complaints about the Keystone XL, oil tankers and the other methods you addressed seem to have fallen off of their radar. Although we respect their position and concerns, if the pipeline is not approved, it is likely that Canada will sell the oil to China instead of the crude being delivered to the U.S. This will have dire consequences to U.S. economy, and will likely thwart the progress we have mad in achieving North American energy independence.

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