The company battling to build the Keystone XL pipeline made a plea for a ceasefire on Monday, asking the Obama administration to suspend its review of the controversial infrastructure project that would bring heavy oil from Alberta to U.S. refineries.
If granted by the U.S. State Department, the delay would almost certainly hand the decision for the $8 billion project to a future president rather than Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Calgary-based TransCanada Corp said it had sent a letter to the U.S. State Department to suspend its application while the company goes through a state review process in Nebraska.
"We are asking State (Department) to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state," TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said in a statement.
The news comes shortly after the White House on Monday said it still expects Obama will make a decision on whether to grant a permit to TransCanada Corp for the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline before he leaves office in January 2017.
Asked if TransCanada was asking for a delay because of concerns Obama may block the pipeline, TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper said the company was not going to speculate on what the decision may be or when it may come.
The Keystone project faced headwinds both from a U.S. administration seen as favoring environmental protection over expanding oil pipelines and U.S. crude prices that have plunged to $50 a barrel from almost $150 when the project filed a federal application in 2008.
The TransCanada Corp pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil sands crude to Nebraska en route to refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The pipeline has become a symbol in the larger political fight over climate change, with environmental groups arguing that stopping its construction will force producers to keep much of the heavy oil in the ground.
"TransCanada rightly sensed that the tide has turned against Keystone XL and now they're trying to delay any decision in the hopes that they can get a Republican president to approve it," said Valerie Love with the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, who urged Obama to reject the appeal for more time.