Drawing a Line in the (Tar) Sand
Probably the most frequently used argument in favor of the Keystone XL project is the jobs it’s supposed to bring to the United States. TransCanada hired The Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm from Waco, to evaluate the project’s jobs potential. That report, released in 2010, estimated that the construction and associated development of the pipeline would produce more than 118,000 “person years” of direct employment and create as many as 250,000 spin-off jobs, which researchers said included bakers, bartenders, clergy, dancers, dentists, and hairdressers, who would be needed to take care of the pipeline workers.
The report became a call to arms to get Obama and the State Department to allow the XL portion of the pipeline to cross the border. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed the project would create more than 250,000 permanent jobs in the States. Texas’ U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced on the Senate floor that the president needed to sign off on the project because it “promises 20,000 immediate jobs and 118,000 spin-off jobs.” Even Republican presidential hopeful John Huntsman repeated the 118,000 jobs figure.
But that figure was a misunderstanding of the 118,000 person-years of work the Perryman group had extrapolated. A “person year of work” is not a permanent position, and even a senior vice president at TransCanada put the number of permanent American jobs, once the pipeline was completed, at roughly the number of people employed by one or two Wal-Mart stores — several hundred people at best.
Still, the promise of tens of thousands of well-paying manufacturing and construction jobs — even if they were temporary — seemed to many like the sort of boost needed to get the economy back on track. But those numbers, too, turned out to be inflated: TransCanada, as it turned out, had already signed contracts with firms in India and Canada to manufacture about half the amount of pipe that would be used in the line. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated that the pipeline project would create about 6,000 to 7,000 jobs and that most of those would last only six to nine months.
TransCanada spokesman David Dobson, in an e-mail to Fort Worth Weekly, wrote that for both the Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Project — the connecting line between Houston and Port Arthur — “the overwhelming majority of the pipe … will come from highly specialized North American mills.” However, North America includes Canada, and in a follow-up phone call, Dobson confirmed that “about half the pipe will be manufactured in the U.S.”
Then there was the promise of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil being turned into gasoline that would substantially lower the price at the pump for Americans. Environmental groups and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, noted that the final destination for the XL is Port Arthur, a foreign-trade zone that allows tax-free transactions with other countries. The tar sands currently entering the U.S. are being refined and utilized here, but opponents say that will not be the case with product shipped to the Gulf Coast.
“The refineries in Houston, with the connection to the foreign trade port, make this clear, that the Keystone XL is an export pipeline,” said Kate Colarulli, associate director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign.
Markey suggested that TransCanada’s real point of destination for the tar sands oil is Asia. TransCanada’s president for energy and oil pipelines Alex Pourbaix, denied that at a congressional hearing in December 2011, saying, “The most important role that Keystone will play is to bring energy security to the United States.”
Markey then asked Pourbaix if he could promise that all of the diesel and oil products made from the Keystone XL tar sands would be sold in this country.
“No, I can’t do that,” Pourbaix responded.
Among those arrested in front of the White House in 2011 was Julia Trigg Crawford (“Your Land is My Land,” April 11, 2012). Crawford is the manager of her family’s 650-acre Red’Arc farm that runs along the Bois d’Arc Creek and the Red River not far from Paris, in northeast Texas. Crawford had been approached by representatives of TransCanada in 2008 for permission to run a pipeline along a 40-acre pasture on one end of the property. When she and her family turned down the proposal, TransCanada upped the financial offer a couple of times, then eventually condemned the land it wanted via eminent domain in September 2011, not long after Crawford’s arrest.
Crawford, with the help of others, soon discovered that TransCanada had been involved with at least 89 land condemnations in Texas and had threatened hundreds of others with eminent domain before the company even had the permits necessary to build the pipeline.
She was incensed. TransCanada had the right to acquire land by eminent domain only if the company could prove that its pipeline was a “common carrier,” which means the company would sell capacity on the line to other companies to carry their petroleum as well as TransCanada’s own. If TransCanada was a private carrier, carrying only its own petroleum products, it wouldn’t have the right to take land through eminent domain in Texas. TransCanada had never produced information making good on its common-carrier claims, so Crawford and her family sued the company on those grounds.
While the lawsuit was playing out, Obama turned down TransCanada’s request to allow the XL pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border. The company vowed to develop a different route and reapply, but the setback didn’t stop TransCanada from continuing to take and threaten to take land by eminent domain, particularly in Oklahoma and Texas.
The company’s confidence lay in the fact that since the southern leg of the pipeline would be entirely within this country, no State Department approval was necessary. All that was necessary was to get the green light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers certifying that certain ecosystems, notably wetlands and waterways, would be reasonably protected.
Opponents of the line regarded the Crawford lawsuit as one of the final legal obstacles that could stop the Keystone XL. It became an even more important issue when Obama, on March 22, told federal agencies that he wanted them “to cut through the red tape” on the southern leg of the XL, “and make this project a priority.”
If the Crawford lawsuit could stop TransCanada from taking land through eminent domain, the project might have to shut down. However, on Aug. 22, Lamar County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris ruled against Crawford — in a 15-word text message delivered from his iPhone.
The entire text of the message was:
“TransCanada’s MSJ [motion for summary judgment] GRANTED.
TransCanada’s NEMSJ [no evidence MSJ] GRANTED.
Crawford’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is DENIED.”
The decision meant the judge was taking TransCanada’s word that the Keystone XL pipeline would be a common carrier, although the company had presented no evidence to back up that assertion.
Crawford immediately began working on a possible appeal, but TransCanada wasted no time in taking advantage of the ruling. The company began felling trees and clearing land along the pipeline route from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. And a small group of anti-pipeline protesters figured it was time for their first major direct action in Texas.