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Obama, TransCanada spar over Keystone XL job creation

Keystone XL applicant TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T) says the President of the United States is wrong about the number of jobs the pipeline would create.

Speaking to the New York Times on Saturday, Barack Obama said the proposed oil artery intended to carry mostly oil sands crude from northern Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast would create "maybe 2,000 jobs during construction" and then no more than 100 permanent jobs to sustain its operation. The President added such a figure was "a blip relative to the need."

Late Saturday evening, BNN received a response from the Calgary-based pipeline builder directly challenging Obama's statement.

"We have and can factually rebut each point the President has made," said James Millar, a senior spokesperson for TransCanada. Millar went on to point out the southern leg of the 830,000 barrel-per-day project, which runs from Oklahoma to Texas and is now 95% complete, has already employed 4,000 Americans.

"On this leg of the Keystone system alone we employed more Americans than the 2,000 figure the President pointed to. We have dealt with criticism of our job number totals for over two years and we stand by them. It is not logical to think a $7.6 billion dollar US infrastructure project stretching across the entire breadth of the continental U.S. wouldn’t employ thousands of workers both in the manufacturing sector and in constructing the pipeline," Millar said.

The company is standing by the 13,000 jobs figure for the construction phase of the 2,575-kilometre pipeline and provides a detailed breakdown of exactly what jobs will be created. About 500 workers will be required for each of the 17 separate sections of pipe being planned just inside the United States, Millar explained, totalling 8,500 workers. Add 3,000 jobs for the 30 multimillion-dollar pump stations that must be built along the route (needing about 100 workers apiece) and another 1,000 or so for management, supervisory and inspection roles brings the total "direct, on-site jobs" to 13,000, Millar said.

"Construction of Keystone XL is expected to also create 7,000 manufacturing jobs," Millar said, noting those jobs will be spread across more than 50 equipment providers based in "Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, Arkansas, Kansas and California."

Regardless of whether TransCanada's job creation projections are accurate or not, Obama's clear skepticism of them is a major blow to the company that said Friday it remains "hopeful" it will receive a Presidential Permit to begin construction of the project's northern leg before the end of this year. The first Keystone XL application was rejected by Obama in January 2012 and most experts are giving 50/50 odds of the second application suffering the same fate as the first.

However, Obama did suggest his thumb could be persuaded to point upward on what has now been the most heavily scrutinized pipeline project in American history. The NYT article reminds readers of remarks the President made last month when he said Keystone XL would only be approved if it did not "significantly exacerbate" the problem of carbon pollution. On Saturday, Obama expanded on that point to add that Canada "could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release."

Canada is working on more stringent regulations of carbon-intensive industry, though many have argued Canada's regulations are already much more onerous than those on the books in the United States. Alberta, home to the entire oil sands industry, for example, is the only jurisdiction in North America that currently charges companies for the amount of carbon emissions they produce and is reportedly considering raising the price even higher.

All of this begs two questions, if Obama is looking for Canada to do more on the environmental front before he can justify giving Keystone XL a green light, what exactly does he want and why, after dozens of trade missions and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, hasn't Canada done it already?

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