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CPBJ Extra Blog

Would Keystone XL hurt rail jobs?

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Do you support the Keystone XL pipeline project?

Yes? Then why do you hate railroad workers?

Pardon my being flip. I'm not picking sides on this project.

But based on work done by Factcheck.org earlier this month, President Obama's soon-to-be announced decision on whether to build the pipeline from Canada to the United State's bread basket could have an impact on rail traffic in the U.S.

The pipeline, to be built by TransCanada Corp. for $5.4 billion, could carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries. It would run 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. Of that, about 850 miles would be in the United States.

The thing is, according to Factcheck.org, which has a strong reputation for, well, checking facts, a lot of oil is now shipped from Canada by rail to make up for the fact that the pipeline doesn't exist.

"A substantial amount of Canadian oil is already entering the U.S. by rail, in tank cars, and the amount carried this way is rising sharply," Factcheck states. "No White House approval is required."

So, if the Keystone is built, proponents say it will create more than 42,000 jobs. However, Factcheck.org cites an analysis by the U.S. State Department that says those jobs would be only during construction and only about 50 jobs would be permanent.

Meanwhile, U.S. freight railroads had approximately 180,000 employees in 2012, the most recent numbers I could find.

So, what would the impact be if more oil was shipped in the pipeline instead of on the rails? That's apparently hard to calculate right now, and I'm no mathematician or economist. Most media reports I've seen have focused on how shipping oil by rail is much more dangerous than by pipeline.

But the job impact to the rail industry is at least something to think about.

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