Lies, Damn Lies, And Keystone XL Pie Charts

The Washington Post minimized the climate impact of Keystone XL in a misleading chart. But a comparable chart that illustrates a key rationale the Post uses to advocate building the pipeline -- its supposed job creation potential -- shows how misguided that argument is.

On May 5, the Post's Wonkblog  ran an article that included a chart comparing the additional carbon pollution that would result from moving tar sands through the pipeline (as opposed to conventional oil) to the overall carbon pollution in the U.S. economy. However, the Post made an error similar to one that prompted the New York Times to issue a correction, noting that the proper comparison would be to the total emissions from the pipeline (150 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, or Co2-e, not 18.7 million as originally reported). So in actuality Keystone XL amounts to a little less than 3 percent of the entire U.S. economy's carbon pollution, not less than 1 percent.

A similar pie chart of the argument that Post editorials and Keystone XL advocates often refer to when lobbying for the pipeline -- job creation -- shows that Keystone XL jobs would actually represent less than 1 one-hundredth of a percent of the U.S. economy. A February 5 editorial from the Post argued that: “The real downside to rejecting the project concerns jobs (construction would create at least several thousand), relations with Canada and the message that arbitrary ­decision-making would send to investors and other nations."

However, the State Department estimated that Keystone XL will produce only 3,900 construction jobs if construction occurred over a one-year period and 1,950 if construction took two years, resulting in only about 35 permanent jobs after construction. That is microscopic in comparison to 145,669,000 jobs, the most recently reported total number of jobs in the United States.

This is not the first time that the Post has advocated for Keystone XL while trivializing its environmental impact. The Post published a January 2013 editorial that trumpeted the inevitability of extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands and brushed aside criticism borne out of climate change concerns, because "[s]upply would make it to demand, one way or another." The May 5 Post article made the same claim, asserting that: "[T]he tar sands are going to get developed -- and those 18.7 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere -- regardless of whether Keystone gets built or not." However, reports have indicated that moving oil by rail will not be able to replace the capacity of Keystone XL.

The article concludes that Keystone XL should not be disputed because “Keystone amounts to a little over one tenth of U.S. cow flatulence” - again using the misleading 18.7 million figure. Unmentioned? The White House is indeed taking action to address methane emissions from cattle.