The government shutdown could further delay the review of the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial extension that would carry Canadian tar sands oil all the way to the Gulf Coast.
The decision to accept or reject the 1,179-mile pipeline is ultimately up to President Barack Obama, but a review of how the pipeline will affect environmentally sensitive areas in the U.S. is ongoing.
The $5.3 billion Koch Industries project has been on hold for several years. Operator TransCanada split the project into two halves. Now the bottom half, Oklahoma to Texas, will not require presidential approval.
“Finalizing the draft involves work with consulting agencies to discuss and address their comments,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
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Most of the Environmental Protection Agency was deemed non-essential, and the staff needed to finalize the review has been furloughed.
“Most of these consulting agencies have had a large number of staff furloughed during this process, which has made it harder to work on with them,” Harf added. “We obviously need information, technical expertise that these agencies can provide, and it’s just making it more difficult now.”
Environmentalists have protested the pipeline for years citing the role tar sands plays in climate change. They also worry about the hazards of a leaks on the expansive pipeline, the environmental impact, and the method of clean-up.
The State Department has not indicated when the review will be ready.
"We cannot make any predictions on the timing - we haven't before and can't now," the State Department said.
TransCanada said earlier this month that it does not expect the White House to hand over a decision before the end of the year.