U.S. to recommend approval of Keystone XL pipeline

Pipe stockpile
In this Feb. 1, 2012 photo, miles of pipe for the stalled Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla.
Sue Ogrocki | AP 2012

Updated: 2:11 p.m. | Posted: 12:55 p.m.

The Trump administration will approve the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, senior U.S. officials said, after the State Department delivers a positive recommendation to start construction on a long-delayed project that has served as a flashpoint in the debate about climate change.

Two senior officials said Tom Shannon, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, would make a recommendation on Friday that the pipeline serves U.S. national interests. Then, the White House would formally announce final approval, said the officials, who weren't authorized to comment publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

The 1,700-mile pipeline, as envisioned, would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to Houston-area refineries, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Environmental groups objected to the pipeline's route and argued it would encourage the use of dirty sources of energy that contribute to global warming.

And President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015 after a negative recommendation from then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Trump administration had given officials until next Monday to complete a review of the pipeline. The recommendation has represented the last significant hold-up as President Donald Trump has been a vocal supporter of Keystone, saying it will create American jobs.

In rejecting the pipeline, the Obama administration had argued it would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was reached weeks later in Paris. Kerry's recommendation against the permit came after lengthy State Department reviews, and it was unclear what justification the agency might now use to explain the change of position.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump invited pipeline company TransCanada to resubmit the application to construct and operate the pipeline. The Trump administration has dropped fighting climate change as a priority, leaving open the possibility of pulling out of the Paris deal.

The go-ahead for Keystone will mark a clear victory for oil industry advocates, who say the pipeline will create jobs and improve U.S. energy security. Both of those arguments are disputed by the pipeline's opponents. They say new jobs will be minimal and short-lived, and argue the pipeline won't help the U.S. with its energy needs because the oil is destined for export.

Shannon, America's top career diplomat, is making his agency's recommendation because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recused himself from the matter. Tillerson is the former CEO of oil company Exxon Mobil, and environmental groups and others had argued it would be a conflict of interest for Tillerson to weigh in on the pipeline's fate.

TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, first applied for a permit in 2008.