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Recent Keystone XL Polling Finds 5 Major Falsehoods Pushed by Oil Industry

5 min. read
Recent polling has indicated strong support by the American public for approving construction of the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands export pipeline. Yet this support is based on a series of falsehoods, spread by the very people who stand to benefit from the pipeline's approval (go figure!).  Here are five of those falsehoods, and our explanation as to why they're false.

1. A  Bloomberg poll in December 2013 found that 56% of Americans described Keystone XL as "an opportunity to improve U.S. energy security."  In other words, Americans correctly believe that  being addicted to foreign oil is not a good thing. The problem is that the fossil fuel industry has relentlessly propagandized people to believe there's no credible alternative to their product. Of course, as we know, there most certainly  is an alternative to large-scale oil imports: making our transportation fleet far more energy efficient than it is today; switching to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy; promoting high-speed rail, transit-oriented development, etc. Combined, those measures could slash U.S. oil consumption so that we don't need to import any oil at all, let alone from unfriendly countries. Yet the oil industry would have us believe that we'll be forever addicted to their product. How convenient...for them, that is.

2. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that although a plurality (47%) of Americans believe (correctly) that Keystone XL would pose a "significant risk to the environment," a large majority (85%-10%) also believe that the pipeline will create a "significant number of jobs."  In reality, Keystone XL would create almost no jobs at all: just 35 (or possibly 50) permanent ones, as the pipeline would be mostly automated. That, in a country of 300 million people, would be utterly inconsequential. Yet the drumbeat of lies from the oil industry and its allies about the supposed bonanza of Keystone XL-related jobs has continued unabated. For instance, as Media Matters noted last March
Media are touting the claim from Rep. Paul Ryan's new budget plan that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would create nearly 140,000 jobs, but that figure comes from exaggerating a heavily criticized, industry-funded analysis.
Reuters uncritically repeated the Ryan  budget's assertion that constructing Keystone XL would create "20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs." Fox News host Sean Hannity later claimed the pipeline would create "nearly 140,000 jobs,"
This is yet another example of why Fox News President Roger Ailes has been effective at polarizing the news media viewing audience, with the Fox News demographic buying into the alternative universe created by incessantly repeated Fox falsehoods.

3. A June 2013 Harris poll (paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, so take this one with a large grain of salt) found that "82% of registered voters believe building the Keystone pipeline system is in the national interest." There's just one problem with that belief, and it's a huge one: the Canadian tar sands oil slated to flow through the pipeline is not destined for the United States, but for export markets. Don't take our word for it, though. Here's what an independent study by Cornell University researchers had to say on this subject.
This paper is primarily concerned about jobs, but the findings below also shine light on another claim made by the industry—that KXL will get the US further on the road to energy independence. The idea of energy independence clearly resonates with the American public, and the paid advertisements depicting Canadian Tar Sands as the source of “ethical oil” (and therefore a better option than oil from dictatorships like Saudi Arabia) plays to that sentiment. But KXL is a global project driven by global oil interests. Tar Sands development has attracted investment capital from oil multinationals—with Chinese corporations’ stake getting bigger all the time. If approved, KXL will be almost certainly be constructed by temporary labor working with steel made in Canada and India. Much of the Tar Sands oil will be refined in Port refinery is half-owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. And a good portion of the oil that will gush down the KXL will, according to some studies, probably end up being finally consumed beyond the territorial United States. Indeed, the oil industry is also trying to build another pipeline, Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway, to carry Tar Sands oil across British Columbia for export to Asian markets, although this pipeline also faces serious public opposition. Clearly, Tar Sands oil and energy independence really do not belong in the same sentence.

Let's repeat: "Tar Sands oil and energy independence really do not belong in the same sentence." Case closed.

4.  According to the  Washington Post/ABC News poll, some of the strongest support for Keystone XL is found in the U.S. Midwest. yet the Cornell University study referenced above finds that the Midwest will actually be harmed by this pipeline.
KXL will divert Tar Sands oil now supplying Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs (estimated to total $2–4 billion) will suppress other spending and will therefore cost jobs.
The argument made by people like Tom Steyer is the right one - this is an foreign oil export pipeline, not an American job creator. Would Midwesterners show such strong support for Keystone XL if they were as familiar with these facts as they are with the reams of paid, false oil industry ads deluging their TV screens and computer monitors? We strongly doubt it.

5. Similarly, the Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Midwesterners and Southerners are among the least concerned that Keystone XL would pose a threat to the environment. Yet the route of Keystone XL takes it through the Midwest and South, where an oil spill could devastate communities in its path, just as this spill did. And this one. Not to mention this disaster. Of course, you'll never hear about any of that in the Pollyana-ish propaganda paid for by our petroleum pals.

The bottom line is that the fossil fuel industry should have no credibility whatsoever on this subject, yet it's got money to burn on a constant stream of pro-industry (and anti-clean-energy) propaganda.  Calling out their outrageous dishonesty (not to mention chutzpah!) needs to be a central ingredient in any clean energy or environmental pushback.  Of course, it would be great if one could just cite the facts of the matter and count on everyone to reach the correct conclusion. But, as we know, public debates are not a meritocracy. And the fact is that, to date, not nearly enough has been done to accurately explain to the American people who the proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are, and why they feel the need to spend millions of dollars convincing them to believe an alternative set of "facts." Hence, the unfortunate poll results we just finished deconstructing.