Keystone XL: An alternative jobs strategy

How we create jobs in pipeline industries,
while protecting the climate.

We know that the Keystone XL pipeline will greatly aggravate climate change, allowing massive amounts of the world’s dirtiest oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to be extracted and later burned. But the payoff is new jobs in construction industries, which are currently suffering from high unemployment. The State Department estimates 2,000 direct jobs and another 40,000 indirect jobs would be created over the two-year life of the project.

That’s enough jobs to enlist all kinds of supporters. We need any jobs, America seems to be saying. And so this climate fouling project lives.

But if it is construction jobs we want, economists with the E3 Network and their colleagues at Labor Network for Sustainability figure we can do better than the Keystone pipeline. Much better.

Replacing existing water and gas pipelines would create far more jobs that a new pipeline in Keystone XL states.

Noah Enelow, Ecotrust’s Director of Economic Research and Evaluation, presents to Congressional staff on the findings of a 2014 study comparing the job creation potential of the Keystone XL pipeline, to the jobs that would be created from eliminating subsidies for tar sands refineries and investing the revenue in upgrading and maintaining failing water infrastructure.

Repair existing pipelines, for 5X more jobs

According to The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy, a 2013 report from E3 and Labor Network for Sustainability, targeted investments in our existing water and natural gas pipeline infrastructure needs along the proposed five-state corridor of the KXL pipeline will create many more long-term jobs than Keystone XL, both in absolute terms and per unit of investment.

Jobs by county that would be created under an alternative proposal to repair existing pipelines.
smiling worker in hardhat, blue building behind him, asian man

Tackling the crisis of ageing infrastructure and meeting the $18 billion in needed water and gas line repairs in those Midwest states would support:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors
  • Nearly five times more jobs, and more long-term jobs, than KXL
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.

All of this necessary infrastructure work can be financed, as the report describes, by closing three federal tax breaks fossil fuel companies enjoy for drilling and refining activities. So the tax loopholes that would help subsidize the Keystone XL pipeline could instead fund many more longer-lasting jobs repairing existing water and gas infrastructure.

Jobs, not politics

Of course, Keystone has come to signify more than jobs: it has become a political litmus test for being “pro-job.” If job creation is our primary goal, then politicians should tack back toward reality.

By focusing on repairs to existing pipeline infrastructure, we can get out of the Keystone vortex and stop threatening the climate in the name of jobs.