WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered no timetable on Friday for a U.S. decision on TransCanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying he hopes an analysis of public comments on its environmental impact would be done soon.
"My hope is that before long that analysis will be available, and then my work begins," Kerry said at a news conference with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts. He noted that after the environmental analysis is completed there will be a process to determine whether building the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird bluntly told the United States on Thursday to end the "limbo" on the approval process for the pipeline, conceding that Washington might veto the project. On Friday, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he still believed the United States would ultimately approve the project, which would transport crude from the Alberta oil sands to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
The U.S. State Department has yet to finalize a controversial environmental review of more than 2,000 pages that it issued on March 1. It had been expected to complete the review by midsummer.
Instead, it is reviewing and publishing in batches the more than 1.5 million public comments it received on the review.
Many of the comments focus on one of the draft review's main conclusions: that TransCanada Corp's 830,000 barrel per day project would not result in higher levels of emissions linked to global warming because the oil would find its way to market whether or not the pipeline gets built.
"There were a lot of questions that were raised in all of the public comment period and those comments have necessitated appropriate answers," Kerry said. "I can promise our friends in Canada that, you know, all the appropriate effort is being put in to trying to get this done effectively and rapidly."
After the environmental review is completed, eight federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, will have 90 days to comment on whether they believe the pipeline is in the national interest. Then the State Department will make a National Interest Determination (NID), which the agencies will have 15 days to appeal.
Baird, standing at Kerry's side after a three-way meeting with Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade, suggested he and the U.S. secretary of state would discuss the issue during a bilateral meeting later on Friday.
"Obviously, this is a tremendously important project for the future prosperity of the Canadian economy," he told reporters at the news conference. "We hope the final State Department report is out in short order and that the administration will be in a position to make a positive decision."
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