Keystone Pipeline Looks Worse With Each Study

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- With the recent release of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report concluding that the climate is still changing and humans are almost definitely culpable, debate over the construction of the Keystone Pipeline has returned to the limelight.

In addition to the IPCC report, anti-pipeline activists have leverage with the release of reports by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cornell University finding that building the pipeline could likely have negative consequences not only for the environment, but the economy.

The Center for Biological Diversity found that the pipeline would cause significant damage to wildlife habitat for more than a dozen sensitive species, including whooping cranes, northern swift foxes, piping plovers and black-footed ferrets.

The center reviewed documents on the pipeline compiled by the State Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which acknowledged that oil spills from the pipeline would almost certainly occur -- probably at an average of 1.9 times and about 34,000 gallons of tar sands oil released each year. According to the center, State Department documents also acknowledge that construction of the pipeline could likely crush northern swift fox dens.

Despite this, the Pew Research Center for People and The Press found that two-thirds of the public support its construction here, even as two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on power plant emissions and have become disillusioned with domestic hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking."

Proponents of the pipeline say it will create tens to hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans and bring in billions of dollars in revenue to the U.S. A study by Cornell University casts some serious doubts on these claims.

After reviewing TransCanada's own data, the Cornell researchers found that the Keystone project will create only between 2,500 and 4,650 construction jobs, all of which are expected to be temporary and last an average of two years -- making no impact on the country's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which is expected to remain at 9.1%.

"Job estimates put forward by TransCanada are unsubstantiated and the project will not only create fewer jobs than industry states, but ... could actually kill more jobs than it creates," the study found.

The reason: The presence of the pipeline might likely drive up gas and diesel fuel prices in the Midwest by 10 to 20 cents per gallon -- an estimated total cost of $2 billion to $4 billion to people at the pump, draining spending from payrolls. And any short-term economic and job gains from the pipeline will be undermined by the costs incurred by oil spills, which are likely. The report cites the 2010 figures for oil spills in the U.S., which caused $1 billion dollars in damage.

The decision on the Keystone Pipeline is stalled, not least because of recent controversies posed over its accused encroachment on private property. Three Nebraska farmers are suing over the pipeline's proposed route, which they say was drawn up unfairly and runs over their land.

Additionally, the State Department launched an inquiry recently into Environmental Resources Management Group, better known as ERM Group, a British company hired by the State Department to examine how the pipeline would affect the landscape between Canada and Texas.

Last year, ERM Group was contracted to draft a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to succeed the original. Unredacted documents released by Mother Jones in May showed that the analysts who worked on the Keystone report had previously worked for TransCanada and "other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone's construction," despite claiming to the contrary on government conflict-of-interest disclosure forms.

When ERM Group was asked on the form if it had any direct or indirect relationship with any business that would be affected by the pipeline decision, the company answered that it had not. An outcome from the inquiry is pending.

A final decision on whether to build the pipeline is up to President Barack Obama, who has gone on record to say he would oppose construction if it is found to "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution.

It turns out that may be the case.

At the end of August, another report by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International found that the bitumen produced from the oil sands of northern Alberta would push climate change into "overdrive."

The groups referred to the State Department's own findings that overall emissions produced by the bitumen in the tar sand could be as much as 22% higher than conventional oil. Furthermore, the construction of the pipeline would lead to at least a 36% increase in current tar sands production.

The oil industry also argues that if the pipeline isn't permitted, the tar sands oil will be exported by another medium. But the groups note a June 18 finding by Standard & Poor's: "The proposed Keystone XL pipeline and expansions of the Enbridge system are all necessary to accommodate the near-term forecast production growth."

As with the reports by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cornell University, the report by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International found that any financial benefits from the pipeline would be heavily outweighed by the costs of the environmental damage it causes, especially by increasing climate change.

"Keystone XL is a climate disaster," said the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune. "The president set a tough climate test for the pipeline, which it clearly fails to pass."

A final decision on the pipeline is expected in the early half of 2014.

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