TransCanada denies politics at play in request to suspend Keystone XL review

The company behind the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline denies the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a factor when it asked for the review of the project to be suspended.

CALGARY — The company behind the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline denies the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a factor when it asked for the review of the project to be suspended.

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) has tried to stay out of politics throughout the project’s often torturous journey through the U.S. regulatory process — and the latest move announced late Monday is no exception, said CEO Russ Girling.

“We’ve worked very hard for seven years to keep our head down and work our way through every twist and turn,” he said Tuesday.

“There’s things we can control. There’s things we can’t control. And obviously we’re focused on those that we can.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has made it known he’s not a fan of the cross-border crude pipeline, expressing skepticism over its economic benefits and concern over its contribution to climate change.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton –who would have handled the Keystone file during her time as secretary of state — has also spoken out against the US$8-billion development after a long silence.

If the U.S. State Department process is suspended for long enough, a more pipeline-friendly Republican may be in the White House by the time the review is complete.

But Girling said that wasn’t part of the calculus in asking the State Department to hit pause while a separate regulatory process in Nebraska over the pipeline’s route is worked out, which could take between seven and 12 months.

“It’s our view that the State Department process should not continue at the current time on its current path if there’s new information that’s going to be provided from a review in Nebraska,” he said. “That’s the way that it’s been managed to date and the way that we are expecting that it’s going to be managed in the future.”

A spokesman for Obama says the administration is still evaluating TransCanada’s request.

Josh Earnest said the answer will come from the State Department, which is leading the review into the pipeline that would carry almost one-quarter of Canada’s oil exports.

Earnest did, however, characterize the request as peculiar.

“It seems unusual to me to suggest that somehow it should be paused yet again,” he said.

“But this is something the State Department is still considering. When the administration has a reaction to the letter they’ll be the ones to announce it.”

As for whether a decision will occur before Obama leaves office in January 2017, he said: “That continues to be the current plan even as we evaluate their request and consider the reasoning behind it.”

AltaCorp Capital analyst Dirk Lever said TransCanada’s move makes sense, given that continuing to push Obama on approving the pipeline appears to be a waste of time.

“Obama’s been pretty outspoken on his views, so why push him? Get the state stuff done and don’t have them spinning their wheels, especially if you have to change something in your submission,” he said.

“You get this close to an election and you’ve got some heavy lifting still to do in Nebraska. Why have them go through the exercise, especially if there may be a change down the road?”

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