Jobs numbers and other benefits touted by supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are probably exaggerated, President Barack Obama told House Republicans on Wednesday, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting.
But Obama did not rule out a decision to approve the $7 billion pipeline, according to participants.
Obama told Republicans at the Capitol that he's still weighing a decision on the pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Obama appeared "conflicted" on the pipeline, saying that many of the promised jobs would be temporary and that much of the oil produced likely would be exported.
But Terry said Obama also indicated that dire environmental consequences predicted by pipeline opponents were exaggerated.
"He said there were no permanent jobs, and that the oil will be put on ships and exported and that the only ones who are going to get wealthy are the Canadians," Terry said.
A White House spokesman said Wednesday no decision on the pipeline has been made.
Terry, who supports the long-delayed pipeline, said he wished Obama's comments were less negative, but said he was still hopeful the project would be approved, a view echoed by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., another pipeline supporter.
Scalise, who asked Obama about Keystone at the GOP meeting, said the president "made light" of jobs numbers predicted by supporters, including some who have predicted that the project could create as many as 100,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Obama said the pipeline "is not going to create as many jobs as you (Republicans) hope," Scalise said.
Calgary-based TransCanada, which is proposing the pipeline, initially said it could create at least 20,000 jobs, including 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 jobs among suppliers and manufacturers. The company later clarified that the figures were for one person per year, based on a two-year construction timetable. The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs.
A draft environmental report released by the State Department this month said there would be no significant environmental impact to most resources along the proposed pipeline route, which goes through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. The report also said other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change.
State Department approval is needed because the project crosses a U.S. border.
On at least one aspect of the pipeline, Obama is "flat-out-wrong," Terry said. While some oil is likely to be exported, the total is far less than a majority, Terry said. "That was disturbing to me," he said.
Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https:twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC