The Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada through Montana to Texas is being sold largely on claims it would bring 20,000 direct jobs to a job-desperate United States.
But that figure is wildly exaggerated, according to a September study by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute.
The Keystone pipeline, if approved, would produce 2,500 to 4,650 U.S. jobs, and only 10 percent to 15 percent of those jobs would go to workers who live in the five states through which the pipeline would run.
In Montana, residents would be hired for just 93 to 257 Keystone pipeline jobs, the Cornell study said.
And instead of Keystone investing $7 billion in the United States, the sum would be closer to $3 billion to $4 billion, suggested Cornell's report titled "Pipe Dreams?"
The wildly different numbers were prompted by a critical review by Cornell of the original 2010 report produced by The Perryman Group of Waco, Texas.
Perryman's report was paid for by Calgary-based TransCanada, which proposes building the pipeline.
Texas economist M. Ray Perryman said Keystone would produce $7 billion in U.S investments and create 20,000 jobs, and those numbers have been widely quoted in the debate over the project. According to Perryman, 40 percent of the jobs would go to Texas.
The Cornell report called Perryman's work "deeply flawed" and said he counted all the spinoff jobs, not just direct jobs, and included $1 billion of the pipeline in Kansas that has already been built.
Neither Cornell's John Sweeney nor Perryman could be reached for comment Friday, although Perryman emailed his prepared rebuttal to the Cornell critique calling it "clearly advocacy" rather than objective.
Cornell also said the Port Arthur, Texas, refinery where the Canadian crude would be offloaded, is owned 50 percent by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company.
Finally, the Cornell report predicted that if Keystone is built, crude oil now shipped to the Midwestern states would be diverted to Texas, resulting in a 10- to 20-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline and diesel in those states.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaking after an energy conference in Billings on Friday said he's not sure which job count is correct, but he wants the pipeline built.
"The fact is, if you don't have a job, one job is one more job than you had before," Tester said.
If built, Keystone would pass through 282 miles of Eastern Montana.
Tester, the state's senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., all support the pipeline. Rehberg is challenging Tester in this year's Senate race.
Before Christmas, Republicans in Congress attached the language to a payroll tax law that forces President Barack Obama to make a decision on the Keystone project by Feb. 21.
Part of the pipeline route must be redrawn because Nebraska called a special legislative session to force TransCanada to move the pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Ogallala Aquifer that supplies water to eight states.