- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TORONTO — Alberta’s premier said the Obama administration should speed up a decision after the Canadian pipeline developer agreed to shift the route of the massive $7 billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline out of an environmentally sensitive area of Nebraska.

Premier Alison Redford said there appears now to be no reason to delay the Keystone XL pipeline.

“If that was the issue that was of concern, does this now give us the opportunity to expedite the process? And I hope the answer is yes,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Ms. Redford is leader of the Canadian province that has the world’s third-largest reserves of oil, and the proposed pipeline would carry oil-sands oil from Alberta to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Last week, the State Department delayed a decision on a federal permit for the project while it studies new potential routes that avoid Nebraska’s Sandhills area and the Ogallala Aquifer. Nebraska officials of both parties and environmentalists had strongly objected to the project, which has strong support from business groups and labor unions whose workers would build the pipeline.

TransCanada said Monday night it would agree to the new route, a move the company previously claimed wasn’t possible, as part of an effort to push through the proposed $7 billion project.

But State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that nothing has changed with regard to the timeline that the department laid out last week, saying the evaluation could conclude as early as the first three months of 2013 - long after the presidential election is held.

Ms. Redford met with Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones and House Speaker John A. Boehner in Washington on Monday and had talks with U.S. congressmen and senators on Tuesday. She said she got the sense from them that there is now no reason not to expedite the decision.

Mr. Boehner was one of a number of congressional Republicans who assailed the news that the White House was delaying a decision, accusing President Obama of seeking to bolster his chances of re-election next year. He said more than 20,000 new American jobs have been sacrificed in the name of political expediency.

The heavily contested project has became a political trap for Mr. Obama, who risks angering environmental supporters and losing re-election contributions from some liberal donors if he approves it. The State Department had previously said it would have a decision by the end of the year.

Debate over the pipeline has drawn international attention focused largely on Nebraska, because the pipeline would cross the Sandhills - an expanse of grass-strewn, loose-soil hills - and part of the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to Nebraska and parts of seven other states.

Company officials had claimed that moving the route was impossible because of a State Department study that found the Sandhills route would leave the smallest environmental footprint.

News of the delayed decision on the pipeline went over badly in Canada, where it was seen as a signal that the country must diversify its oil exports away from the United States and toward Asia. Canada is the largest energy supplier to the United States.

The pipeline is critical to Canada, which must have pipelines in place to export its growing oil-sands production from northern Alberta, which has more than 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more known reserves.