July 26, 2011 / 11:14 PM / 8 years ago

House passes bill to speed up oil sands pipe review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation that would set a firm deadline for the Obama administration to decide the fate of a proposed $7 billion pipeline that would transport Canadian oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The House voted 279-147 in favor of the bill that would force the State Department to approve or deny a permit for TransCanada’s planned Keystone XL pipeline by November 1.

Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield said the bill would cut through the “endless delays” that have held up the pipeline for nearly three years.

“It’s time to get moving on reducing energy prices,” Whitfield said.

Supporters of the pipeline, which would eventually carry 700,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, say the project would create jobs and boost U.S. energy security by providing a safe source of crude from a stable U.S. ally.

Despite its passage in the House, the bill still faces an uphill battle to become law, with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.

Keystone XL, which requires approval from the State Department because it crosses the Canada-U.S. border, has attracted strong opposition from green groups that complain about the environmental impacts of the pipeline and the carbon-intensive nature of oil sands production.

Recent leaks from Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip oil pipeline and TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline have also raised concerns on pipeline safety and whether oil sands crude is more corrosive than conventional crude oil.

The House vote came on the one-year anniversary of a rupture on an Enbridge pipeline that spilled about 19,500 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

The White House came out against the legislation on Monday, calling it “unnecessary” because the State Department has already committed to wrapping up the permitting process by the end of the year.

The bill “could prevent the thorough consideration of complex issues which could have serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications,” the White House said in a statement.

Following complaints from the Environmental Protection Agency about its initial environmental analysis, the State Department completed a supplemental review, delaying the pipeline project.

Still, the department reiterated its commitment to its year-end deadline last week, saying it will issue a final environmental review of the pipeline in August.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Lisa Shumaker

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