Keystone XL pipeline builders ask US to ‘pause’ review

© Andrew Cullen
The Canadian company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has asked the US to halt its six-year-long review of the $8 billion project. Approved by Congress this year, the effort to fast-track the project was vetoed by President Barack Obama.

“TransCanada believes that it would be appropriate at this time for the State Department to pause in its review of the Presidential Permit application for Keystone XL,” Kristine Delkus, TransCanada’s executive vice president, said in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The company said it believes that “there is sound precedent for making this request.” TransCanada noted that the US had already suspended its review last year when the status of the pipeline was challenged, and therefore believes another pause would be “appropriate.”

If approved by the Obama administration, the Keystone XL pipeline would deliver up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada down to Nebraska. From there it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. It would stretch for a distance of 1,179 miles.

READ MORE: Top court in Nebraska approves plan to route Keystone XL pipeline through state

The project, which has been pending approval for six years, has received a green light from the US Senate. The Republican-controlled chamber passed the bill in January on its second attempt. It was followed by the same decision from the House of Representatives.The pipeline was also approved by the Supreme Court of the state of Nebraska, following years of prohibition.

However, it was vetoed again by Obama as it has not passed a final State Department assessment on whether the project would benefit the US.

On Monday, the White House said that it expects Obama to make a decision on whether to grant the permit to TransCanada Corp before he leaves office in January 2017.

“But when exactly that will be, I don’t know at this point,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. Notably, he has not ruled out it happening this year: “It’s possible – it’s also possible it could happen next year.”

In the past, Obama has said that he would only approve Keystone if it was found not to significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The pipeline’s environmental impact has been the main concern of those opposing the Canadian project.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has previously said that, despite the State Department’s evaluation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, it presents a “risk of spills” and pollution, and could contribute to global warming. The EPA has also stated that the development of Canada’s oil sands “represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

TransCanada has not disclosed what prompted it to request the delay, only saying that “this will allow a decision on the [Presidential] Permit to be made later based on certainty with respect to the rout of the pipeline.”

However, environmental groups suspect that the company is looking to win some time, hoping a new president would approve the project.

“TransCanada rightly sensed that the tide has turned against Keystone XL and now they’re trying to delay any decision in the hopes that they can get a Republican president to approve it,” said Valerie Love of the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, Reuters reported.