WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will not make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline for several months as the U.S. State Department clears hurdles in an approval process that could spill into 2014.
The State Department, in charge of the decision process because the pipeline crosses the national border, has said there is no set timeline for Keystone approval.
Below are steps the department must take on TransCanada Corp's 830,000 barrels per day pipeline that would help link Canada's oil sands with refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
FINALIZE THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT
The State Department issued a more than 2,000-page draft environmental impact statement on the pipeline on March 1 that must be finalized before the process moves forward. The State Department is reviewing and publishing some 1.5 million public comments on the report. Many of the comments center on the State Department's assertion in the review that the pipeline would not lead to an increase in emissions linked to global warming because the oil will find its way to market one way or another even if Keystone XL was not built.
The State Department is under no deadline for when the report will be finalized, and if additional analysis is needed it could mean that the finalization may not be completed in September.
90-DAY NATIONAL INTEREST COMMENT PERIOD
After the State Department finalizes the environmental report, eight U.S. agencies will have 90 days to comment on whether Keystone XL is in the national interest. The agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Energy, are expected to focus on the energy security and economic case for the pipeline. But the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, which have expressed reservations about the pipeline in public comments, are among the other bureaus that will weigh in. The Justice Department, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security are also expected to weigh in.
After the comments from the agencies are in, the State Department will then make a determination on whether the pipeline is in the national interest. This decision could occur on day 90, or not until weeks or months after the agencies do their work.
The State Department will hold another public comment period on whether the pipeline is in the national interest. It is not known how the public comment period would affect the timing of the approval process, or if the State Department would take up time in sorting and publishing the comments.
INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT
The State Department's independent inspector general plans to issue a report in January on conflict of interest allegations surrounding the company that did the environmental review, Environmental Resources Management. The report could lead to further delays.
Once the State Department makes a national interest determination it will give the eight agencies 15 days to review it.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)