Keystone XL: Pipeline to Employment?

I have been following the Keystone XL pipeline developments for over a year and we are coming to the end of the public input process. This week the State Department is holding the last round of hearings in Texas, Monday in Port Arthur and today in Austin at UT’s LBJ Library. The Sierra Club enlisted my help to raise awareness of the Keystone XL pipeline that is tapped to deliver Canadian tar sands to Port Arthur for refinement.  As an environmental organization I understand their position which is complete opposition to the pipeline.  Their concern for increased emissions have been met with flat out denials by industry. When I talked to local media in Southeast Texas for this story even they felt the conclusion was already drawn. We have seen this time again and when a project gets to this point its not going to be stopped but that doesn’t mean that the discussion should end. The question now is, “How do we ensure that the communities in Southeast Texas have every opportunity to benefit from the $20 Billion economic activity?

Make no mistake the industry rhetoric was all about jobs and they had union workers in bright colored tees that read “Keystone means jobs”. Unfortunately from the testimony I heard the only jobs that people seem to know about are the ones to create the actual pipeline itself. Some of it was blatant misinformation, like, “this project will help us get off of foreign oil”. This pipeline will not ween us from foreign oil for two reasons: one Canada is a foreign country and mining this oil will not create jobs in the United States, and two, this oil will not reduce our dependence because it will be sold on the international market.  Several workers openly admitted that this is temporary work but they needed it and would continue to push for more projects when this one is completed. Its not hard to imagine one’s position on a question of their livelihood, its like asking teachers how they feel about cuts to school districts when we should be asking parents. We know most people in Southeast Texas and the other communities along the pipeline route aren’t trained to build a pipeline, so what “jobs” will really be available for the unemployed?  TransCanada talks about the many, ironically referred to, “spillover” jobs that will come from the construction activity. However, I challenge those of us not in the oil industry to support an effort to retool and retrain our skilled workers to create an infrastructure for real local permanent jobs. Energy security can only be achieved when we utilize our research campuses and Institutes of Technology to develop the next generation of cleaner burning and renewable resources that can be manufactured in our own country. If we fail to act now we will be left further behind and be forced to purchase technology from China, Brazil and other countries who have began to heavily invest in thier own energy independence.


The attendants of the Port Arthur hearing I spoke with painted a familiar picture, refinery workers with signs and matching pro-industry garb and passionate greenies fighting til the end of of another battle lost to “energy security and economic activity”. My father, Representative Deshotel Chair of Business and Industry for the State of Texas had not taken a public position on the pipeline until the hearing. He called me about an hour before he testified. He had previously decided he wasn’t going to comment because no one had contacted him about speaking. He decided after hearing both sides that neither had their main focus on the reality of jobs, and that is precisely what people in Southeast Texas, like many other places, are expecting from this project. The “conservative” job estimates by the Perryman Group seem to be a bit rosy and in a time of nagging recession and systemic unemployment it would seem a bit cynical to not be sincere or realistic about what type of employment opportunities would be available with this project.

With or without the Solyndra scandal President Obama does not have the poll numbers to oppose this project and I expect that it will be approved by the end of the year.  There is really only one option left for those who are skeptical of this project and that is to hold TransCanada and others contracted on this deal to the job creation numbers they predicted. Since the Beaumont and Port Arthur Chambers of Commerce are in support of this project I hope they uphold their commitment too. The PACoC claims they serve to “Works with local industry, public entities, major purchasers, developers and other businesses to help ensure that local companies are utilized for area projects”. Anyone showing they have the capacity to create 250,000 jobs should be the focus of a national dialogue as we struggle through a lingering recession. I would expect the President and all his GOP challengers to point to this as a shovel ready example of how we can put Americans back to work. Everyone who utters the word jobs in support of this project should join my call for a path to employment. We must push these job creators to identify what jobs will be available, what skills will be required and how the unemployed can apply. Though before we get too excited looking at TransCanada’s job estimates please read an important note from the “fine” print of their media advisory on Keystone XL’s job creation:

This news release may contain certain information that is forward looking and is subject to important risks and uncertainties. Actual results or events may differ from those predicted in these forward-looking statements. By its nature, forward-looking information is subject to various risks and uncertainties, which could cause TransCanada’s actual results and experience to differ materially from the anticipated results or expectations expressed. Readers are cautioned to not place undue reliance on this forward-looking information, which is given as of the date it is expressed in this news release or otherwise, and to not use future-oriented information or financial outlooks for anything other than their intended purpose. TransCanada undertakes no obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required by law.

So the last line says it all. Unless “we the people” demand it we won’t get anything, including jobs. I guess irony strikes while the press is hot because the headline of the Port Arthur News at the time of this blog reads:

Refineries Seek Huge Tax Eefunds: Some of the nation’s largest oil refineries are seeking huge tax refunds that could force the Port Arthur ISD and Jefferson County along with school districts and local governments across Texas to give back tens of millions of dollars they were counting on to pay teachers and provide other services.

Previous posts on Keystone XL:

The 1st “Not so smooth…like Keystone XL” tackles the introduction and jobs claims,

The 2nd “UPDATE: Tar Sands Keystone XL” covers the actual harmful effects of its refining.

Port Arthur hearing coverage:

The Beaumont Enterprise
Port Arthur News
Houston Chronicle


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