The CEO of pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. hopes the company doesn't have to turn to the North American Free Trade Agreement to get its long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline built.

Russ Girling said Friday that TransCanada isn't contemplating a NAFTA challenge right now, but that the option is available down the road if the US$5.4-billion pipeline is delayed indefinitely or denied.

The U.S. regulatory review of Keystone XL is in its sixth year.

A week ago, the U.S. State Department dealt a major setback to the project, saying it would hold off on making a decision while a court case over the pipeline's route is being worked out in Nebraska.

Girling said he's resigned to the fact that the coming summer construction season for Keystone XL has likely been lost, which means workers will need to be let go.

TransCanada needs two summers to build the pipeline, bringing the earliest-possible start-up to 2017.

Keystone XL would take oil from Alberta to refineries and ships on the Gulf Coast in Texas, but has met with widespread criticism from environmental opponents.

TransCanada profit rises

Earlier Friday, the company reported a first-quarter profit of $412 million or 58 cents per share, compared with a profit of $446 million or 63 cents per share a year ago.

Revenue increased to $2.88 billion, up from $2.25 billion a year ago.

Excluding certain one-time items, TransCanada said its comparable earnings for the quarter came in a $422 million or 60 cents per share, up from $370 million or 52 cents per share a year ago.

The company attributed the increase to higher earnings from its NGTL System, Keystone, Bruce Power, U.S. power, and natural gas storage operations.