The U.S. State Department says it is still aiming to decide by the end of the year whether to recommend approval of a bid by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. to build the Keystone XL pipeline, but noted the decision could be delayed if necessary.
The $7-billion project would carry mostly Alberta oilsands crude through six American states to Gulf Coast refineries.
"We'd like to get it done by the end of the year, but if thoroughness demands a little more time nobody has slammed the door on that," State Department official Victoria Nuland told a news conference Wednesday.
The comments came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama told an interviewer he expected to get the State Department’s recommendation "over the next several months," which has led to debate whether he was alluding to a delay.
Obama told Omaha's KETV that he would take the "long view," balancing conflicting interests.
Obama promises balanced view
"We need to encourage domestic natural gas and oil production. We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren't just relying on Middle Eastern sources," Obama said.
"But there is a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and the folks in Nebraska are protected and that is how I'll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me."
Some of the stiffest resistance to the pipeline's proposed route has originated in Nebraska, and Obama's comments came the same day the state legislature opened debate on whether to re-route the proposed pipeline away from land overlying the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive water supply in Nebraska and seven other states.
Also on Wednesday, Canada's envoy to Washington said he's confident the pipeline will win approval if the final decision is based on merit and not the "noise" opposing it.
"I believe if it's on merit, it will proceed. If it's on noise it won't," Doer said.
Doer said he believes the pipeline meets U.S. energy security needs, and that it passes all U.S. State Department environmental criteria.
"Energy security for the United States, particularly when it's displacing Venezuelan oil, is a very positive argument as well," said Doer.
"And many of his (Obama's) own people, dealing with energy security, believe that in Washington. But having said that, the process is proceeding as it should and jobs, energy security are strong arguments for the project."
On Tuesday, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling took time during a conference call to discuss the firm's latest earnings to address the future of the project.
He said a delay could cause oil companies to back out of commitments to use the pipeline.
"They're with us to the extent that we can get through this process in a reasonable time frame. But if the administration delays the project long enough that it becomes a low probability that they will ever get it through in a time frame that meets their needs, they are not going to support us anymore," he said.