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What Will Obama Say in Oklahoma on Pipeline?

UPDATED: CNN has reported that when President Obama speaks Thursday in Cushing, Okla., he will "fast-track" the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. What this means remains unclear, but the pipeline needs federal permits.

Pipe sections in Illinois await crews to weld and bury them during construction in 2009. This segment of the $12 billion Keystone pipeline project has already been built; a proposed pipeline through Texas still awaits government permits.

Update, 7 p.m.: A White House official said that the president on Thursday would "reiterate his administration’s commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market."

Original story: When President Obama speaks Thursday in Cushing, Okla., he'll undoubtedly have something to say about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which a Canadian company hopes to build to move oil from Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that Obama will "fast track" the southern leg of the pipeline, which presumably means the Cushing to Port Arthur leg. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, hopes to start construction in mid-2012 and have the leg in service by the end of 2013, according to James Prescott, a spokesman for the pipeline, now formally known as the Gulf Coast Project.

Prescott did not say what the CNN report might mean. "We are not going to speculate about what the president may or may not say tomorrow in connection with this project in particular, or energy policies in general," he said. (CNN had cited a "source familiar with the president's announcement.")

The White House, despite recently rejecting a permit application for the more northern arm of the pipeline that runs across Nebraska, has been supportive of the Oklahoma-Texas leg.

“Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production,’’ White House spokesman Jay Carney has said previously. “We look forward to working with TransCanada to ensure that it is built in a safe, responsible and timely manner, and we commit to take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.’’

The Cushing-Gulf Coast leg still needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and some other federal agencies, Prescott said.

Obama will spend Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, the Tulsa World reports.

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