WASHINGTON - The Keystone XL oil pipeline is on the verge of being approved by the U.S. government, a full eight years and six months after Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. applied for a permit that was beset by political drama.
The White House has repeatedly suggested it supports the project — and now promises an announcement Friday.
"We'll have an update on that for you tomorrow," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Thursday.
In his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that invited TransCanada Corp. to reapply for a permit and promised a decision within 60 days, and since then the president has repeatedly suggested he will accept the application.
The 60-day timeline in Trump's executive order expires Monday. That deadline will be met, a State Department official also confirmed. Awarding cross-border pipeline permits is technically the domain of the Secretary of State.
However, in this case, the Associated Press reported that the decision would come from Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon because his boss, former oil executive Rex Tillerson, has recused himself from the decision.
That decision would clear the way for formal approval by the White House.
The Obama administration had rejected the pipeline after years of delay, after heated debates within the administration, street protests, and court battles tossing up resistance to the project.
The battle is far from over.
The pipeline company still does not have deals with all the landowners in Nebraska on the proposed route, lacks a permit in that state, and protesters promise they will be back to try thwarting the project.
"It still will be fought tooth and nail," said Clayton Thomas-Muller in a statement from anti-pipeline group 350.org.
"Any politician siding with the fossil fuel industry on Keystone, be they named Trudeau or Trump, is in for one hell of a fight."
Keystone XL is one of several ongoing pipeline projects intended to carry oil from Alberta to refineries and international markets; it would carry more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S., transporting it to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Previous studies from the State Department have backed the science behind the pipeline. They have concluded that it would not make a significant difference in the growth of Canada's oilsands, and it would even reduce pollution — because pipelines are cleaner means of transporting oil than trains.
But pipeline opponents point out that the State Department findings carried a more pessimistic caveat: that if no other pipelines got built, and oil prices remained low, then Keystone XL actually might lead to more production and therefore pollution.