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Texas Stretch of Keystone XL Pipeline Progressing

The 485-mile Oklahoma-to-Texas leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is about half done and should be operational by late this year or early 2014, according to officials from TransCanada, the company building it.

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.

The 485-mile Oklahoma-to-Texas leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is about half done, a TransCanada official told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.

Nearly all the land along the route has been cleared, and the pipeline should be in service at the end of this year or in early 2014, according to Corey Goulet, vice president of Keystone Pipeline projects for TransCanada, the Canadian company building the pipeline. The $2.3 billion pipeline will bring crude oil from a major storage depot in Cushing, Okla., to refineries in the Nederland area of Southeast Texas. (A spur will take oil on from Nederland to Houston.)

Despite these advances, TransCanada is still waiting on federal approval before building a segment of the pipeline farther north. TransCanada hopes to eventually pipe oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas. But because that pipeline would cross a border, it requires presidential approval. President Obama rejected the company's bid for a permit in early 2012, but TransCanada has reapplied.

The Alberta oil would come from formations called tar sands, and extracting it releases more greenhouse gases than does the process for regular oil. Environmentalists concerned about climate change have made stopping the pipeline a high-profile goal.

The Cushing facilities store oil from sources in the Midwest and Southwest, including the Bakken shale in North Dakota and the booming Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.

Whether to grant a permit for the northern segment will be a politically difficult decision for the Obama administration. The pipeline has attracted protests nationally, including a large one in Washington this month. Protests have also erupted along its route through East Texas, from landowners who fear spills and environmental activists concerned about climate change.

“We believe it’s going to come very soon,” Goulet said of the permit. However, he noted that he had been making the same prognosis for awhile.

TransCanada says that the pipeline helps national security, because if the northern segment is built it will bring oil from Canada, a friendly neighbor. Also, it is creating jobs. More than 4,000 people are currently working on the pipeline, Goulet said. However, many of those jobs are for constructing it. Once complete, Goulet estimated that it would bring 20 to 30 permanent TransCanada jobs to Texas, though that does not count other companies providing services along the route.

In Texas, the protests have been concentrated in Wood, Nagocdoches and Smith counties, Goulet said, as well as a couple in Oklahoma.

Grace Cagle, a representative for the Tar Sands Blockade, a Texas group protesting the pipeline, said that the group is not currently protesting on land along the pipeline route. That's because of an injunction obtained by TransCanada in late January that prohibited the group from protesting along easements. The prohibition was issued by the Wood County District Court, she said.

Previously, the group made national headlines by sitting in trees and chaining themselves to equipment in an effort to block pipeline construction.

Now, Cagle said, the group is focused on working with residents in the vicinity of a Gulf refinery where the oil will be processed. Other protest groups are also springing up, she said.

Along the Oklahoma-Texas stretch, TransCanada dealt with 1,200 landowners and needed to exercise powers of eminent domain to obtain an easement in 53 instances, TransCanada officials said.

The company has obtained all but one of parcel of land, in Jefferson County, where a group called Texas Rice Land Partners has objected.

A judge ruled for the company, but the rice group appealed. According to the South Texas Legal Record, oral arguments in that case are scheduled for March 7.

Activists say that regardless of the final fate of the Keystone pipeline, they will be around to protest further pipelines bringing tar sands for refining.

“A long as tar sands [oil] is being extracted and refined, we’re going to be there,” Cagle said.

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