The State Department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline cheered supporters of the controversial plan to transport oil from Canada's tar sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The assessment could pave the way for President Obama to give his approval to the pipeline's construction because it failed to turn up any major problems. But the review is not the final word on the issue. The public now has 45 days to submit comments on the draft document. That means the agency’s report is only going to stir up a bigger fight as environmentalists and industry groups marshal the paper's findings to their respective causes. In the weeks to come, expect everyone involved to take positions on these numbers:
3.19 million metric tons. This is the amount of carbon dioxide the State Department expects the Keystone project to produce every year. Most of it will be produced via the electricity used to power the pipeline’s pump stations.
626,000 cars. The United States would need to remove this many cars from the road to offset that annual increase in carbon emissions.
42,100 jobs. Keystone XL will help boost hiring, albeit temporarily. It'll create over 42,000 jobs across the two-year construction period. Nearly 4,000 of those jobs will be directly involved in building the pipeline. But since pipelines don’t need much more than a skeleton staff to operate, only 35 of the workers will become permanent staff after everything is built.
20,000 jobs. That's the number of jobs Keystone’s big beneficiary north of the border, TransCanada, has said the project would create. In 2012, critics of TransCanada charged that even that number was far too high, saying the real figure was closer to 7,000 or fewer.
$34.5 million. This the value of property-tax revenue, according to the State Department, that Keystone is likely to pull in for the three states it traverses: Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
7,000-830,000 metric tons. Assuming Keystone isn’t built and nothing takes its place, that’s the amount of carbon emissions the United States would save every year. The State Department estimates that if the Canadian oil sands deposit were not to be developed at all — an unlikely scenario — the country could save 5.3 million metric tons annually.
262 acres. The expanse of wetlands that will be affected as a result of the Keystone project is no wider than the area affected by some other proposed pipeline routes. One alternative floated in 2011 would have affected 544 acres during construction.
17 percent. Extracting oil from sand, which the Keystone project would help TransCanada do, takes more energy than simply pulling crude from the ground. It’s 17 percent more costly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions compared with your average barrel of crude, according to State. Over time, that number could even grow as oil sands operations scale up.
Because the Canadian oil sands are almost certain to be developed whether Keystone is built or not, the State Department reasoned, building the pipeline doesn't do much more to harm the environment overall. It would, however, cause U.S. carbon emissions to go up, thanks to the higher carbon footprint of producing a barrel of oil from sand. And that would make cutting emissions down the road a more difficult task.