story by Ryan Saylor
News this week that the U.S. State Department had released its fifth and latest environmental impact study on the Keystone Pipeline project, which would build an oil transport route from Canada to the Gulf Coast, has many politicians across Arkansas demanding action.
The controversial pipeline, which will pass through Oklahoma and bypass Arkansas entirely, would be 875-miles long and transport as much as 830,000 gallons of crude oil per day, according to the State Department's website.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., has stood up in support of the pipeline, bucking several members of his own party in an election year where he is facing U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, in his bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate.
“We’ve waited years now for the President to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. We have the studies, we have the support of the states along the route, and we have the backing of a bipartisan coalition in Congress,” Pryor said. “Mr. President, let’s build the Keystone XL Pipeline.”
Pryor, and nearly every other supporter of the project, have touted the pipeline as a jobs creator and a driver of the national economy.
In an e-mail earlier this week, Cotton's campaign quoted a figure from The Washington Post, which quoted a report stating that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs.
Executive Vice President Kelly Robbins of the Arkansas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association said should the Keystone Project receive final approval this year, it is very likely that Arkansans could be put to work on construction of the pipeline itself, a prime reason Arkansas politicians have jumped in the fight.
"Bald Knob used to be a hub of numerous pipeliners," he said in reference to the small city northeast of Searcy. "There's still a lot of expertise (from) pipeline workers in Arkansas who will work on this pipeline, whether welding or other parts of that construction."
He said those workers are likely to spend their pay when they "come home, whether for a week or two at a time or spending their wages back here at home."
Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, said while construction of the pipeline (if approved) would create jobs, it still remains to be seen whether any of that would actually impact Arkansas. Beyond Arkansans leaving the state temporarily to work on building the pipeline, Deck said what economists will look for in evaluating any impacts will be unintended results of the pipeline construction.
"Infrastructure has the benefit," she said. "Think about those construction impacts. We're thrilled they're here, but the value of the infrastructure itself should be very durable and should facilitate economic impact for a long time, whether highways, pipelines, or airports. Those economic impacts get spread for a long time and have unforeseen impacts on other sectors of the economy."
Even if Arkansans do not know someone working on the pipeline itself, Robbins said all in Arkansas would eventually feel the impacts of the pipeline, should it ever be built.
"The more (oil) we can produce nearby instead of paying to transport it in by more expensive means halfway across the world" he said. "All of those costs of doing business, the most savings we will have, that will pass on to the consumers. I don't believe this will be any different from that."
Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., said she is ready for the project and the jobs that would come to Arkansas' western neighbor as a result and is urging approval of the project, pleading with President Barack Obama in a press release earlier this week.
“The Keystone pipeline project is important to our nation’s energy security as well as the individual economies of our states,” said Fallin. “In Oklahoma alone, the pipeline represents a billion dollar investment with the potential to create thousands of jobs. We’ve waited long enough for this to be approved. It’s time for President Obama to let common sense prevail and give American workers the green light on this shovel-ready project.”