08/06/2013 04:18 EDT | Updated 10/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Pipelines Create Jobs. Or Do They?

There's a big dust-up between Barack Obama and Keystone XL proponents over how many jobs the pipeline is projected to produce.

This debate can be summarized by asking the question: "How many jobs do you want it to produce?" Whatever your answer, it's not hard to find someone to support your claim.

That's for construction jobs.

In pipeline construction, the jobs estimate goes everywhere from 2,000 (Obama) to over 100,000 when all the direct, indirect and induced employment (including manicurists, bartenders & clergy) is factored in. Apparently at one point the American Petroleum Institute was slinging the number 500,000 around, but nobody's paying attention to that.

An interesting conundrum. When the president seeks support for major infrastructure construction, he's usually happy with "stimulus math" that calculates those spin-off jobs so key to the economy. And of course he's routinely hollered down by Republican claims that these are all meaningless fairy tale projections.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and both sides are looking more than a bit opportunistic.

But for the rhetoric and disparity around short-term construction jobs (and construction jobs are always short term, which doesn't make them less vital to the economy), no one seriously contests the US State Department's estimates of long-term permanent employment. The State Department says:

"operation of the proposed project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts."

35 long-term permanent jobs. Just sayin'.