By ROB GILLIES
TORONTO (AP) — After waiting seven years for a decision, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas has asked the U.S. State Department to suspend its review of the project. The move comes as the Obama administration increasingly appears likely to reject the pipeline permit application before leaving office in January 2017.
TransCanada said Monday it had sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the State Department suspend its review of the pipeline application. Until recently, it would have been unimaginable for the Calgary, Alberta-based company to ask for a delay.
The pipeline company said such a suspension would be appropriate while it works with Nebraska authorities to secure approval of its preferred route through the state that is facing legal challenges in state courts. TransCanada anticipated it would take seven to 12 months to get route approval from Nebraska authorities.
The State Department review is mandated as part of the application process because the $8 billion pipeline crosses an international border. The State Department does not have to grant TransCanada’s request for a pause in the review and instead can continue the process.
“We have just received TransCanada’s letter to Secretary Kerry and are reviewing it. In the meantime, consideration under the Executive Order continues,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
The White House declined to comment, referring all questions to the State Department.
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Police say seven people protesting an oil pipeline project in northern Minnesota were arrested after they refused to leave an Enbridge Energy office in Duluth.
WDIO-TV reports the seven were taken to the St. Louis County Jail on Monday afternoon on possible charges of trespassing. Duluth police say those arrested were part of a march and rally against the Enbridge pipeline projects.
Several tribal and environmental groups organized the protest. They say the pipelines are a threat to climate, water and communities in the Great Lakes region. Enbridge is seeking regulatory approval for the new Sandpiper Pipeline and a replacement of its Line 3 pipeline. Line 3 carries oil from Alberta to Superior, Wis., while the Sandpiper would carry oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Superior.
Ahead of TransCanada’s announcement Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama intended to make a decision on the pipeline before his presidency ends in January 2017, although he declined to elaborate on the timeline. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her main challengers for the Democratic presidential nomination are already on record as opposing Keystone. All of the leading Republican presidential candidates support the pipeline.
Some pipeline opponents contend that TransCanada hopes to delay the review process in hopes that a more sympathetic Republican administration will move into the White House in 2017 and approve it.
“In defeat, TransCanada is asking for extra time from the referees, and clearly hoping they’ll get a new head official after the election. It’s time for the current umpire, President Obama, to reject this project once and for all,” said environmental activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group 350.org.
Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group Bold Nebraska, which opposes the pipeline project, also said TransCanada officials are asking for a pause only because they hope a Republican president will approve the pipeline.
For seven years, the fate of the 1,179-mile-long pipeline has languished amid debates over climate change and the intensive process of extracting Alberta’s oil and U.S. energy security
Keystone has long been a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Critics are opposed to tapping the Alberta oil sands, saying the practice requires huge amounts of energy and water and increases greenhouse gas emissions. They also express concern that pipeline leaks could pollute underground aquifers that are a critical source of water to farmers on the Great Plains.
TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper acknowledged they “have been hearing since February the same rumors that a denial or a decision is imminent” from the Obama administration but said the company’s priority remains demonstrating that the project is in the interest of the United States.
“Our focus isn’t on the political machinations of what this president may or may not do or who may be in office a year from now,” Cooper said.
Cooper declined to make TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling available for an interview but noted the company reports its earnings on Tuesday and said the CEO will take questions then.
Pipeline supporters maintain the project will create jobs and boost energy independence. They also say pipelines are a safer method of transporting oil than trains, pointing to recent cases of oil-train derailments.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts reiterated his support for Keystone in a statement issued by his spokesman Taylor Gage.
“The Governor has been clear … that it will be the safest pipeline built yet in our state, and that it will bring good-paying jobs and property tax revenue to Nebraska’s counties,” it said.
Ricketts declared his support for TransCanada’s decision announced last month to shift course in Nebraska and seek new approval from the state Public Service Commission, an elected five-member group that oversees most pipelines.
Former Gov. Dave Heineman approved a Nebraska route for Keystone XL in 2013 after a review by the state Department of Environmental Quality. But the 2012 law that gave him the power to do so has been challenged by landowners in court, preventing the project from moving forward within the state.
Both North Dakota senators, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican John Hoeven, criticized the Obama administration’s long delay in approving the pipeline.
Hoeven said it’s “clear” that the administration intends to deny the pipeline permit, which he claimed would have “a chilling effect on the willingness of other companies to invest in important energy infrastructure projects in the United States.”
The project, since TransCanada announced it in 2008, has undergone repeated federal and state reviews. The pipeline would be built from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where 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.
Delays in approving the pipeline have led to friction between the U.S. and the outgoing Canadian Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper was frustrated by Obama’s reluctance to approve the pipeline and the issue damaged U.S-Canada relations. Although incoming Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is sworn in Wednesday, supports Keystone, he argues relations with the U.S. should not hinge on the project.
Canada needs infrastructure in place to export its increasing oil-sands production. Canada relies on the U.S. for 97 percent of its energy exports. Alberta has the world’s third largest oil reserves, having 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. But a sharp decline in the price of oil is making many of the new oil-sands projects less viable.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington and Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb., also contributed to this report.