By Theophilos Argitis
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the U.S. move to seek more public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline suggests President Barack Obama’s administration might further delay a decision on the $5.4-billion project.
“How much consultation do you need to do?” Harper said Thursday in an interview in his Ottawa office. “It’s clearly another punt.”
The U.S. State Department will give the public a second opportunity to comment on the pipeline after an environmental impact review is complete, according to an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity this week. The agency hasn’t said how long it would accept public comments; the project has been under U.S. review for more than five years.
The deferral is threatening to increase tension between the U.S. and Canada at a time when oil-sands developers are counting on new pipelines to lift the price of Canadian crude.
Producers are planning to double output by 2025 and are counting on Keystone XL to connect them to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Environmentalists are trying to block the project because they say developing the oil sands would lead to more carbon emissions than other fuels and contribute to global warming.
Also on Thursday, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird called on the U.S. to end the “state of limbo.”
“The time for Keystone is now,” Baird said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
The U.S. will not make a ‘‘backroom decision’’ with Canada, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said.
Baird warned that if no new pipelines are built, oil would instead be shipped to the U.S. Gulf Coast by rail.
“Compared to sending by pipelines, sending by rail causes higher greenhouse-gas emissions and raises the per-mile incident rate,” Baird said.
In light of recent derailments, including one in July that killed 47 people in Quebec, concerns have been raised about the increasing use of rail to transport oil.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.