The Obama administration is unlikely to make a decision on the Canada-to-Nebraska Keystone XL pipeline until late this year as it painstakingly weighs the project's impact on the environment and on energy security, a U.S. official and analysts said last week.
The decision may not be made until November, December or even early 2014, said a U.S. official, as President Barack Obama will not rush the process, which still has a number of stages to work through. One of those stages has not even begun yet and will run for months.
"The president has to be able to show that the administration looked under every stone to ensure it knew as much as it possibly could about the impact of Keystone," said the official, who did not want to be named given the sensitive nature of the project.
Analysts agreed that a decision would not be made by this summer as the State Department had suggested when it issued an environmental review on the pipeline on March 1.
The State Department is nominally in charge of making a final decision on TransCanada Corp's proposed project, which would help link Alberta's oil sands with refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast, because the pipeline would cross the national border. But Obama is expected to weigh heavily on the decision.
Another delay in the project, which has been pending for more than four years, would likely anger Canada, whose Prime Minister Stephen Harper is visiting New York next week to push the project at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Other Canadian federal and provincial officials have visited Washington regularly to press the case for the pipeline.
It could also set back TransCanada which last month said delays by Washington would delay completion of the project to the second half of 2015 and push costs for the project above its estimate of $5.3 billion.
A State Department spokeswoman on Thursday said the environmental review has received more than 1 million public comments.
The State Department did not immediately respond to questions about when it plans to finalize its assessment or move to the next stage of determining, with input from several other agencies, whether the pipeline is in the national interest. That stage is expected to take 90 days. Federal agencies will also have 15 days to comment on the decision before it is finalized.
A White House spokesman said in an email that he could not offer any guidance on when a decision is expected.
Kevin Book, a policy analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said August looks less likely for a decision, but September or October still seem reasonable. Obama may want to time an approval of the pipeline to coincide with new Environmental Protection Agency climate rules for coal plants as a way of appeasing environmentalists who oppose Keystone XL, he said.