In a statement issued Friday, the State Department said TransCanada’s application included “new routes,” though it did not identify them, and said it would examine whether the project “is in the national interest.”
This determination process — which the agency said “involves consideration of many factors, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic, and foreign policy concerns” — would probably be complete by April 2013, according to the statement.
The Keystone pipeline project, a point of contention between environmentalists and some labor unions, has divided the Democratic base. It has unified Republicans behind what they contend is a critical source of energy for the United States. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, along with GOP congressional leaders, has called on Obama to approve the pipeline.
The company unveiled one new route for the pipeline through Nebraska last month. President Obama, environmentalists and many Nebraskans — including the state’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman — had raised concerns that the project’s original route could imperil Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region, as well as the Ogallala aquifer, a major source of drinking water for state residents.
Last month Heineman signed a bill enabling his state to go ahead with its review of the project, regardless of federal action on the pipeline.
The new route would steer clear of the Sand Hills region, although it still runs over parts of the Ogallala aquifer. Environmentalists say that Nebraska officials have defined the Sand Hills region too narrowly and that the revised route will traverse the Sand Hills in Nebraska’s northern Holt County.
The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline permit because the project crosses an international border. The original pipeline was slated to run 1,700 miles from Hardisty, Alberta — an area known for oil sands or tar sands — to Port Arthur. In Canada, operators extract a viscous oil called bitumen from formations of sand, clay and water, using a process that consumes more energy and water than conventional drilling. NASA researcher James E. Hansen and other scientists have warned that oil sands activity could accelerate global warming to dangerous levels.
TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling had a closed-door meeting Thursday with Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state who oversaw the original presidential permit application. In a statement Friday, Girling said, “The multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project will reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and support job growth by putting thousands of Americans to work.”