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KANSAS CITY, Mo.
A federal agency on Wednesday delayed approval of a draft environmental impact statement on TransCanada's $12 billion Keystone pipeline, which will move oil from Canada through several northern and Midwestern states.
The U.S. Department of State added two weeks to the public comment period for the Keystone pipeline's impact statement, pushing the end of the comment period to July 2 instead of June 16, a State Department official said.
The department also added two public meetings on the Keystone pipeline -- one in Houston on June 18, and another in Washington, D.C., on June 29.
The federal register notice on the delay and the additional hearings would likely be published Monday or Tuesday. The Department of State has to approve plans for the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
Tony Iallonardo, spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, which issued a report critical of the pipeline on Wednesday, said the Gulf of Mexico oil spill may have influenced the decision and is a "sign that they're listening."
"It's a first step," Iallonardo said. "I think the Gulf has changed the way the State Department and also the public is thinking about risky energy ventures."
TransCanada spokesman Jim Prescott said the company is confident the Department of State will eventually determine the pipeline is "in the national interest."
"It is clear that the Department of State is making every effort to be as inclusive as possible to allow stakeholders an opportunity to offer comment," Prescott said in an e-mail.
He said the pipeline "continues to receive strong support from those who understand the project's commitment to the environment as the safest way to transport petroleum products, its substantial economic benefits during construction and operations, and its important place in energy security to replace offshore sources of crude oil with a stable, reliable source of North American oil to meet U.S. demand."
The National Wildlife Federation's report on the multi-phased project said the pipeline could threaten various natural resources, including the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to several Midwestern states.
"Some portions of the aquifer are so close to the surface that any pipeline leak would almost immediately contaminate a large portion of the water," the NWF report said.
Prescott said the entire pipeline system, "both the first two phases that are soon to be in operation and the proposed phases of it will meet or exceed all standards, all regulations.
"And frankly, from a business standpoint, it makes no sense to cut corners," Prescott said.
The Keystone project includes a 1,073-mile pipeline that moves oil from Alberta, Canada, to a refinery in Wood River, Ill. TransCanada says 8 million barrels have already reached Missouri, and the company hopes to eventually move 435,000 barrels of oil through the pipeline daily.
Another phase of the pipeline system will run from Nebraska down through eastern Kansas to Cushing, Okla. That section is set for operation in 2011, with an eventual expansion to the Gulf Coast. Eventual total capacity is about 1.1 million barrels per day, Prescott said.
The project also includes 1,380 miles of new pipeline in several states, including Montana, South Dakota and Texas.
The NWF said areas at potential risk from the construction and any possible spills would be pronghorn antelope habitat in Montana, the Neches River in Texas, the Platte River and the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to several Midwest states.
"Some portions of the aquifer are so close to the surface that any pipeline leak would almost immediately contaminate a large portion of the water," the report said.
The NWF report said the Keystone XL would "traverse rivers and carve across prairies, will flow on top of vital aquifers, and threaten farmers, ranchers and wildlife when it leaks or breaks, as it unquestionably will."
But Prescott said the pipelines would be under constant surveillance and any leaks would be addressed immediately. "This pipeline, like all the pipelines that TransCanada has in its 40,000 mile network, are monitored 24/7," he said.
"It's a constant monitoring system that uses the most advanced and latest technology," he added. "And we will know on Keystone if there is a problem, and if there is a problem we can shut down the pipeline in a matter of minutes."
Prescott said two proposed phases will mean 13,000 jobs. He said the pipeline created 2,100 jobs this year.