Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tar Sands: Figures Don’t Lie…

 … but liars sure do figure.  Just like my father told me.

This fact is driven home to me every time I hear one of those commercials on the cable news channels.  You know:  The ones that don’t seem to be selling anything.  Coal will generate some amazing number of new jobs; gas drilling will power so many new homes; the postal service delivers so-and-so many letters, etc.  The numbers are usually impressive.

Here’s a remarkable one you’ve probably seen many times:  ExxonMobil parades out a smart-looking spokesman to promise “hundreds of thousands of jobs” from tar-sands mining in Canada, if a massive new pipeline gets built right across our country carrying the oil to export terminals.

All those jobs!  What’s not to like? ExxonMobil has finally really taken an interest in the plight of the American worker, right?

Well, whatever your faith in the world’s biggest oil company, beware. The numbers are left purposely vague on these commercials.  But here are the facts:  The developers of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline made the unsubstantiated claim that the pipeline would generate 20,000 temporary jobs for three years of pipeline construction.   They then commissioned a study that reported that those jobs would generate enough economic activity to support a total of 118,935 “spin-off” jobs.  And the report went further: if things go well, there could be 250,348 jobs, and maybe even 553,235 jobs! 

Wow!  In a jobs-starved economy, where do we sign up?

36" pipe all ready to go for the pipeline from Canada to Gulf export terminals

Hmm.  It might pay to look behind the numbers. 

  • The U.S. Department of State estimates that pipeline construction would temporarily employ 5,000-6,000 construction workers for three years, not 20,000 touted by the developer.  6,000 jobs are equal to 1.45 days’ job creation during 2011. And 6,000 jobs, that’s one temporary job for every 25,600 American workers.
  • The jobs aren’t local.  The State Department expects 85-90% of jobs to be filled by outsiders brought in to build the pipeline.  So as few as 600 temporary local jobs would be created in the entire country.
  • You have to wait 100 years for all these jobs.  The "jobs" in the pipeline promoters’ study aren’t actually jobs at all; they are “person-years” of employment – over a 100-year timeline!
  • 100 years!  Guesses about who will be working 4-5 generations from now, and then selling that as current job creation reveals the lengths to which the KXL pipeline’s proponents are willing to go in this job-hungry environment.
  • The details are actually funny, if you look.  The promoters have said that in Nebraska, the pipeline will create 938 temporary construction jobs.  But among “indirect jobs” in Nebraska, they list more than 800 retail workers.  That’s about one new sales clerk for every direct construction worker.  What a country!

Let’s talk sense:  Any construction project will create some jobs.  That’s obvious.  But that doesn’t mean it will increase employment and prosperity over time.  Here at Good Hand Farm, we could pave our vegetable fields with asphalt, I suppose.  Think of all the jobs!  But next year, our farm workers wouldn't be all that happy, would they?

And that’s what all these discussions miss. How many jobs will be lost?

Yellowstone River: 42,000 gal. pipeline spill this summer
How many ranchers, fishing guides and others will lose their jobs due to pipeline spills in the 1,904 streams and rivers this pipeline will cross, as happened more than 400 times in the period 2003-2008?  How many farmers will lose their jobs because of droughts made more extreme by climate change, like the $5.2 billion (and counting) disaster still burning its way through Texas’ farms and forests?  How many Midwesterners will lose everything if one spill penetrates the Ogallala aquifer?  How many industrial and service employees will lose their jobs due to flooding made more severe, like those that have beset the East Coast in the last month?  And how many livelihoods will be exported to feed our ongoing national addiction to imported fossil fuels (from Canada or wherever)?

You know, President Obama can stop this madness.  He alone must sign the permit to allow all that heavy sour crude to be piped across our country’s rivers and aquifers so that six foreign and multinational oil companies can export it.  Granted, they’ve got the lobbyists and the millions in campaign contributions.  But you and I can tell the President what ordinary people think about this.  Why not write him (here)?  Or better yet, why not join me in paying him a visit on November 6th?  You can find out more about that here.

Your voice is powerful.  Especially because the oil money has bought all the facts they need to sell the idea that our country needs the “jobs” they’ve conjured up.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

“So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.  Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.  The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one; he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.”   Isaiah 5:14-16

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