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Keystone XL oil pipeline clears big hurdle

WASHINGTON--The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a major hurdle toward approval, a serious blow to environmentalists' hopes that President Barack Obama will block the controversial project running more than 1,100 miles (1,900 kilometers) from Canada through the heart of the U.S.

The U.S. State Department reported no major environmental objections to the proposed US$7 billion pipeline, which has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change.

The report stops short of recommending approval of the pipeline.

The White House said the report isn't the final step. A decision will be made only after various U.S. agencies and the public have a chance to weigh the report and other data, said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

β€œThe president has clearly stated that the project will be in the national interest only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Lehrich said.

State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border. Other agencies will have 90 days to comment before Secretary of State John Kerry makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision is not expected before summer.

Republicans and business and labor groups have urged Obama to approve the pipeline to create thousands of jobs and move further toward North American energy independence.

The pipeline would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The pipeline is critical to Canada, which relies on the U.S. for 97 percent of its energy exports and which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production.

The new report says oil derived from tar sands in Alberta generates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming than traditional crude. But the report makes clear that other methods of transporting the oil β€” including rail, trucks and barges β€” would release more greenhouse gases than the pipeline.

Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline, the report says.

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