The Keystone XL pipeline, which the Senate is expected to vote on late today, hasn’t delivered a drop of oil to U.S. refineries yet, but in the five years it has spent in the public spotlight it has prompted a steady stream of something else. The product in question, commonly abbreviated to BS, has been flowing freely from both ends of the political spectrum since at least 2010.
While there may be plenty of debate over how many jobs the pipeline would create if it were built, there’s no question that the political wrangling over its approval has been a virtual full-employment program for fact checkers.
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There are a few things that everyone agrees on. The project would run a 36-inch pipe 1,179 miles, from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, with 875 miles of it running through three U.S. states. In Steele City, NE, it would connect to existing lines that would allow oil from Canadian tar sands to be shipped to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Beyond that, almost every element of the pipeline, from the number of jobs it will create, to the project’s environmental impact, to the economic benefits has been subject to furious, over-the-top debate.
To the environmentally-minded, like Esquire Magazine blogger Charles Pierce, Keystone is “the proposed continent-spanning death funnel that would bring the world's dirtiest fossil fuel from the environmental hellscape of northern Alberta down through the richest farmlands on the planet all the way to refineries in Texas.”
To conservatives in favor of the project, like Fox News commentator Eric Bolling, the project isn’t just a modest job creator, but a fountain of employment that could create “up to a million new high-paying jobs.”
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Professional fact checkers have been working overtime since the project was first proposed, flagging the outrageous claims made by people on both sides of the debate.
Early this year, Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column for The Washington Post, bestowed the dreaded “Four Pinocchio” rating on environmental group NextGen’s claim that Keystone is, in effect, a Chinese plot to siphon energy away from the U.S. to power China’s growth.
Likewise, in July 2013, Kessler blasted President Obama for “lowballing” the number of jobs the project is expected to create. Obama had claimed that it would create as few as 2,000 construction jobs, which required some bending of the facts to justify. Kessler also went after supporters of the pipeline in November of last year, hitting them for false claims about the pipeline reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy.
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As far back as 2011, Kessler was going after members of both parties for what he characterized as the “bipartisan fumble” of Keystone jobs estimates.
And Kessler hasn’t been alone. Politifact.org has tracked more than a dozen high profile examples of public figures spouting false or mostly false information about Keystone going back to 2010.
Some of the highlights include:
- House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claiming that delays to Keystone were costing the economy 100,000 jobs per year.
- Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) claiming that a Keystone bill was an illegal earmark under House rules.
- Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) claiming that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs in Colorado – a state the pipeline won’t touch.
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By the spring of 2014, the discussion had become so confused that the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org produced an exhaustive “Pipeline Primer” in an effort to aggregate the facts about Keystone.
One might think that, five years into the issue – and with so many organizations checking up on them – advocates on both sides would have their stories down. But just Sunday Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, appeared on ABC and delivered a whopper.
In conversation with host Martha Raddatz, Girling cited the State Department’s finding that the Keystone project would “support” 42,100 jobs during construction. The State Department’s estimate included not just construction workers, but extended out into the companies that would supply parts and equipment, logistics companies, and businesses that would supply goods and services to pipeline workers.
Raddatz pointed out that the vast majority of those jobs would disappear within two years. Indeed, both TransCanada and the State Department estimated that once complete, the pipeline would employ no more than 50 people.
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“No,” Girling insisted, “the 42,000 jobs is in ongoing, enduring jobs.”
Unsurprisingly, the fact checkers were on the case immediately. Katie Sanders of the Tampa Bay Times promptly called up a TransCanada spokesperson, who had to walk back his CEO’s claim.
“We rate his statement False,” Sanders wrote.
Girling was only the latest in a long line.
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