It doesn’t mean the oil pipeline won’t be built.
Trans-Alaska pipeline, completed in 1977, via Wikimedia Commons user Luca Galuzzi
The energy company TransCanada asked the U.S. government Monday to suspend its review of its proposed oil pipeline, a move that could postpone the decision until after President Obama’s term has ended. TransCanada’s request arrives at a moment when it appears increasingly unlikely that the administration will approve the pipeline, called Keystone XL.
“TransCanada is losing, and they’re trying to preserve their options to be able to build the pipeline someday if they can get a climate denier in the White House,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told The New York Times.
TransCanada says it has asked for a delay of seven to 12 months because it wants approval for its preferred route through Nebraska. “Our focus isn't on the political machinations of what this president may or may not do or who may be in office a year from now,” TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper told the Associated Press.
The pipeline has been in the works since 2008, and must receive approval from the State Department because it would cut across the U.S.-Canada border. If built, Keystone XL will carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta’s tar sands through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, before linking to existing pipeline networks that connect to Texas’ Gulf Coast.
A Keystone XL protest in February 2013, via Wikimedia Commons user Brylie Oxley
Though the State Department concluded in a 2014 review that the pipeline would not increase carbon emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in February that recent drops in oil prices change the picture. The EPA suggests that the tar sands will now be developed only if the pipeline exists, meaning that the project will result in the release of more greenhouse gases.
Environmental groups say the pipeline will also increase the likelihood of disastrous oil spill accidents, escalate water waste and pollution, and hasten deforestation.