Keystone XL delay frustrates Alberta premier, TransCanada CEO

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and TransCanada CEO Russ Girling both expressed disappointment Friday at the news of another delay in the U.S. approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Friday.

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock expresses disappointment at latest U.S. move to postpone decision

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling says the U.S. State Department's move to delay a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project is 'inexplicable.' (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

News of another delay in the approval process of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline prompted the Alberta premier to issue a statement expressing his disappointment Friday.

Premier Dave Hancock reacted quickly to the news that the U.S. State Department will extend the government comment period on the controversial pipeline project. That move will likely postpone a final decision on the project until after the Nov. 4 mid-term elections, despite an earlier signal from President Barack Obama that a decision could come before summer.

"I am disappointed in today's announcement of yet another delay in the regulatory approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline," Hancock said in a statement. "We believe the project is in North America's best interest as it provides energy security, jobs and a dependable energy source from an environmentally responsible and democratic friend and ally."

Officials said uncertainty stemming from a dispute in Nebraska over the proposed route of the pipeline played a part in the decision to extend the commenting period.

In February, a Nebraska district judge ripped up a state law that might have been used to force landowners to allow the pipeline on their property.

That decision raised concerns the pipeline could find itself in limbo indefinitely, even if the Obama administration allows the pipeline to cross the U.S. border.

'Inexplicable' delay: Russ Girling

News of Friday's delay isn't sitting well with TransCanada's president and CEO.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Russ Girling said he is extremely disappointed and frustrated by yet another delay.

Not building Keystone XL is a lose, lose, lose scenario any way you look at it.- Russ Girling, CEO, TransCanada

"Another delay is inexplicable," he said. "After more than 2,000 days, five exhaustive environmental reviews and over 17,000 pages of scientific data, Keystone XL continues to languish."

Girling said the Nebraska ruling should not have any impact on the current 90-day national interest determination period since TransCanada's approved re-routing of the pipeline remains valid during its appeal of the ruling.

Girling also took a shot at what he called interest groups and paid activists who he says are jeopardizing Canadian and U.S. energy security and creating a situation that will actually lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions and greater public risk.

"Not building Keystone XL is a lose, lose, lose scenario any way you look at it," he said.

Drawn-out review process invites 'continuous assault'

While yet another delay in the approval process has disappointed many, a University of Calgary professor says he's not surprised given how the review process is structured in the U.S.

"It's not being handled in a very responsible regulatory system," said Michal Moore, area director of energy and environmental policy with the University of Calgary.

"In other words, it doesn't have a formal process by which you'd hear a number of comments, you'd adjudicate them and you'd make a decision. This is just so open-ended and non-structured — it just invites kind of a loose and continuous assault."

There's a 90-day period during which U.S. government departments can raise concerns about the pipeline, before the State Department makes a final recommendation to the president, and it is that period that has been extended now.

However, even once the extended period comes to an end, officials in the Obama administration have made it clear there is no set deadline for when the State Department or the president have to make a final call.

Obama has questioned whether he is even able to approve the pipeline in light of the Nebraska court ruling.

Unless the ruling is overturned in a higher court, or every landowner on the current route signs on, or an arms-length Nebraska agency accepts the route, not even an Obama approval would get the project completed.

The State Department gave no new deadline for the delay but said it intends to continue evaluating the project.

"The permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated," the State Department said.

For environmental groups, news of the delay "makes us more confident that the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will ultimately be rejected," said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice-president of government affairs with the U.S. advocacy group League of Conservation Voters.

Despite the complications and delays, Moore says he doesn't anticipate TransCanada will give up any time soon.

He says it wouldn't make sense given how much the company has invested into the project to date.

TransCanada's need to protect future development potential is the driving concern in its commitment to fight for Keystone XL, he said.

Keystone XL is not so much about today's production needs, which can be met with the pipeline infrastructure that already exists, Moore said.

"This is all about future markets," he said.