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​Keystone XL's mixed forecast for job creation

Whatever your feelings about it, there's no doubt that the Keystone XL is an ambitious construction project: A 1,179-mile pipeline that will travel from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska.

With that span, it's likely that the project will create lots of new jobs, right? Well, the answer, like the debate over the project, isn't completely black-and-white.

Advocates of the pipeline say it will create thousands of jobs and improve energy security, but estimates vary widely on exactly how many new jobs will come out of the project, if it moves forward. The Republican-controlled House is on track to approve the pipeline on Friday, with the Senate likely to follow, although it could hit a road block at the White House.

The good news, assuming the pipeline moves forward, is that the project could create thousands of new jobs -- in the short term. About 42,100 average annual jobs would be created by the Keystone XL during construction, according to a State Department estimate.

That might seem like a huge number, but those are jobs that will only be created during the construction. On top of that, that 42,100 estimate includes jobs created by the "ripple" effect of the pipeline's construction. Only about 16,100 of those jobs would be direct employment from firms that are awarded contracts for goods and services from the Keystone project.

TransCanada, the company that will build the pipeline, also estimates that thousands of jobs would be created during construction. In a January 2012 forecast, it pegged the number at 20,000 jobs, split between 13,000 in construction and 7,000 in manufacturing.

Despite the differences in those estimates, both are fairly rosy. Tens of thousands of people could potentially find respectable-paying jobs during the one to two year construction phase. For instance, welders, who would be in demand on the Keystone XL construction, earn a median hourly wage of $17.66, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the gloom comes when looking at the long-term outlook for job creation from the pipeline.

Once construction is finished, the jobs will likely dry up. Only 50 total employees would be needed during the operational phase of the pipeline -- and only 35 of those would be permanent employees, the State Department estimates. The other 15 workers would be temporary contractors.

Even during the boom phase of construction, the jobs might not be quite as plentiful as TransCanada suggests. The company has conceded that its estimate includes "job years" spent on the project, which means that its forecast counts one worker who spends two years on the job as essentially two jobs.

Independent research has also cast doubt on those forecasts for tens of thousands of jobs. Cornell University's Global Labor Institute said TransCanada's estimate was "not substantiated."

The pipeline may create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs, the report noted, citing data supplied to the State Department from TransCanada. On top of that, Cornell noted, most of the jobs wouldn't go to local employees.

"The industry-generated jobs data are highly questionable and ultimately misleading," the Cornell report noted. It added that higher fuel costs, possible environmental damage, and the impact of emissions on health and the climate could actually result in job losses.

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