The State Department’s admission this week that a senior official misstated the job creation numbers forecast for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is notable, given widespread and unbalanced media reporting on the number of jobs created by the pipeline. In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones should have said the pipeline’s indirect job potential was 3,500 annual jobs but instead she said 35,000. The State Department did the right thing in setting the record straight. But far more troubling is the widespread media coverage that continues to report inaccurate job creation numbers according to Media Matters and the Columbia Journalism Review. Even more disturbing is the media’s underreporting of the potential for a major oil spill from the pipeline or that TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline has already had 14 spills in the first year of operation in the United States. These environmental risks prompted President Obama to deny the pipeline which was the right decision for the American people.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline, the State Department reported the pipeline would create 20 permanent jobs and 5,000-6,000 construction jobs over the two year construction period for the pipeline. These undisputed job creation numbers are far lower than what is claimed by TransCanda, the American Petroleum Institute, and others. The Obama administration in explaining the denial of the pipeline in a report to Congress also said “the project would not have significant impact on long-term employment in the United States” and acknowledged that claims that over 100,000 jobs would be created by the pipeline were “inflated” based on a misinterpretation of the analysis conducted by TransCanada.
Unfortunately, the media has often repeated industry’s inflated job creation numbers despite the fact they have been debunked by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute. Other independent analyses have called industry’s job claims “dead wrong” and “meaningless.” Media Matters in a comprehensive review of media cover between August and December 2011 reported the media often covers oil industry’s job claim numbers without any mention of the criticism of these figures. The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) also reported that TransCananda’s own admission of job creation numbers to the State Department were far lower than what they reported publicly relying on an unsubstantiated study.
The public deserves accurate reporting both on the number of jobs created to understand the true benefits of the pipeline but also more coverage of the extraordinary environmental risks that could impact the water supply for millions of Americans. In the end, President Obama chose the health and safety of the American people in denying the pipeline which was the right decision.