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Okla. reacts to no mention of Keystone project

- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Members of Oklahoma's all-Republican congressional delegation are upset President Barack Obama didn't mention the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project in his State of the Union speech earlier this week.

TransCanada's pipeline would run from western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast and employ about 9,000 workers to build it. Company spokesman Shawn Howard estimates construction could take about two years, weather permitting. Howard did not have an estimate of how many permanent jobs the project would create.

The U.S. State Department is conducting an environmental review of the proposed project - likely the reason Obama didn't mention it in his address to Congress - and it's unclear when the federal agency will issue its evaluation. The president and his advisers will have three months after that to determine whether the project is in the national interest.

Obama refused to issue a permit for part of the project in 2012 amid concerns about its potential impact on a large aquifer in Nebraska. TransCanada, however, received clearance to build the southern leg of the pipeline, which runs between Cushing and the Gulf Coast and began shipping oil on Jan. 22.

Obama backed the southern leg of the project during a visit to a pipeyard near Cushing in 2012, describing the city as a "bottleneck" between producers and refineries along the Texas coast. Obama said then that increased oil and gas production was part of his domestic energy policy.

Since then, Republicans who want Keystone XL to go forward have claimed Obama could with the stroke of a pen help achieve energy independence for North America and create thousands of jobs - a claim that has been disputed by the project's critics because the number of permanent jobs isn't known.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford said the absence of the Keystone project in Obama's speech was "conspicuous," especially since the president did talk about expediting permits and streamlining bureaucracy dealing with energy projects.

"The clearest form of bureaucratic mess is that pipeline has been almost 2,000 days in the making, just for a permit that happens to be sitting on his desk," Lankford said in a statement to The Associated Press this week.

Sen. Jim Inhofe said Keystone wasn't mentioned during the speech because the president's "environmental base is keeping him anchored to the losing side of this argument."

"The southern leg of the pipeline has been constructed, starting in the heart of Cushing, Okla., and is already moving to the market vast amounts of resources that are being produced in our country's current energy boom," Inhofe said in a statement. "Like Americans across the country, I call on the president to stop blocking construction of the northern leg of the Keystone pipeline."

Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, say the pipeline would transport polluted tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast,only to have about half of it exported internationally, said Anthony Swift, an attorney for the group.

"The extraction process for tar sands is very similar to strip-mining; it's very damaging," Swift said Thursday. He added that the pipeline could pose environmental hazards to land, water and communities.

In Cushing, where more than 400 people were put to work on the southern leg that recently became operational, Chamber of Commerce executive director Brent Thompson said it would be difficult to estimate the impact that completing the XL would have on the town, mainly since it already felt the economic benefits from the completed leg.

"It might add a job or two," Thompson said. "I don't know if it would have a significant impact on us. The pipeline's full of oil now and everything's essentially done. I think it will make more of an impact in terms of availability of oil to the country and internationally, but for us, I don't see it being that big of a deal."

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