— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), at a hearing on Pete Buttigieg’s nomination to be transportation secretary, Jan. 21, 2021
The Fact Checker has a long history of looking into puffed-up job estimates for the Keystone XL pipeline, an international energy project that stalled through the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump and now appears frozen.
On his first day in office, President Biden revoked a key federal permit Trump had issued. At Buttigieg’s confirmation hearing the next day, Cruz said that “in 2021, the Keystone pipeline was scheduled to have more than 11,000 jobs.”
Our first fact check of Keystone job numbers appeared almost a decade ago, in 2011, and we have published many more in recent years. So regular readers may recall that, barring 50 or so permanent positions, these 11,000 estimated positions are for temporary construction work.
As part of an executive order on climate change, Biden revoked a March 2019 permit that Trump had granted to TC Energy, the Canadian energy company behind the Keystone pipeline.
“Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives,” Biden’s order says. On the campaign trail, the Democrat said investments in renewable energy and infrastructure could generate 10 million jobs.
But in a news release, TC Energy said Biden’s action “would directly lead to the layoff of thousands of union workers.” (In follow-up news reports, the company said “more than 1,000.” A manager on the pipeline project said “hundreds” of workers had been laid off since Biden’s executive action.)
The Keystone XL pipeline is a construction project, and so the most direct jobs are related to construction. These are basically short-term jobs, lasting on average 19½ weeks, to assemble the pipeline that would help carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s Alberta province to the Gulf Coast.
The most comprehensive estimate of Keystone jobs was calculated by the State Department in a 2014 report.
Over two construction seasons, the main beneficiaries of the project would be Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska — each would need to hire between 2,700 and 4,000 construction workers — though Kansas would also hire about 200.
- Montana: 4,000 construction workers for an average of 19 weeks = 1,462 workers
- South Dakota: 3,500 construction workers for an average of 20 weeks = 1,346 workers
- Nebraska: 2,700 construction workers for an average of 19½ weeks = 1,013 workers
- Kansas: 200 construction workers for an average of 33½ weeks = 129 workers
Because of the difficulty in determining whether the project would last one or two years, the State Department decided to express all of the jobs as an annual figure. So those 4,000 construction workers in Montana who work for 19 weeks were turned into nearly 1,500 jobs on an annual basis.
All told, 10,400 construction workers, engaged for four- or eight-month periods, are expressed in the State Department report as 3,900 jobs — one position that is filled one full year — even though none of the jobs actually last a full year.
The figure that really should be used is 3,900 jobs. But it is also correct to say that 10,400 construction workers would get jobs, as long as a politician made clear this was mostly part-year employment. (Cruz didn’t.)
We asked Cruz’s office for a citation to back up his 11,000 jobs estimate and didn’t get any in response, so the State Department report remains the most authoritative guide. A spokesperson for Cruz said, “Unfortunately in the first few days of his presidency, Joe Biden has abandoned these blue-collar workers to advance a radical, out-of-touch energy policy that will decimate entire industries while doing little to change the environment.”
How many jobs would be permanent, lasting more than a year?
The State Department report says it would be close to 50. “Once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require approximately 50 total employees in the United States: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors,” the report says. “This small number would result in negligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area.”
The Pinocchio Test
Cruz cited a real estimate of approximately 11,000 jobs, but he left out that they were all temporary. In the same report, the State Department said the Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would require only 35 to 50 permanent positions.
The missing context is key here, obscuring half the story. Cruz earns Two Pinocchios.
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