The Southern End of the Keystone to Start Up Any Day Now

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The Keystone XL pipeline project is still up in the air, but the southern leg of the pipeline is almost complete and may be up and running in the very near future, TransCanada Corp. spokespeople say, according to United Press International.

If the U.S State Department signs off on it, the Keystone pipeline will run Alberta tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas coast. The project has been a point of contention because the pipeline will be toting bitumen, a sticky black form of oil, more than 1,700 miles. If there were a spill, the thinking goes, not only would it be really bad for the land, but tar sands oil is even more difficult to clean up. Also, environmentalists argue that tar sands oil is thought to produce more carbon emissions, potentially adding to the emissions problem.

So the northern leg of the pipeline -- opposed by environmentalists over possible environmental issues, Native Americans and a bunch of others, supported by unions and energy people and those who say this pipeline could help wean the U.S. off of dependence on foreign oil -- has been in limbo for a while now. Last month, President Obama mentioned the issue in his big environment speech, noting that the pipeline will only be approved if the carbon footprint is found to be reasonable. The thing is, the State Department released a report in March concluding that the carbon emissions from the pipeline wouldn't be significant enough to make it worth killing the project, meaning the carbon emissions issue may not be much of a hurdle after all. The State Department's decision is expected to come by the end of summer.

However, while all this legal and political wrangling is going on up north, the southern end of the pipeline -- which has also been opposed by environmentalists and company, but is subject to fewer hoops to jump through because it doesn't cross international borders -- is due to be up and running before the end of the year.

Construction started in August 2012 and the pipeline could get going well before the end of the year, in fact, since the company needs to build some pump stations and tie the pipeline into existing infrastructure to finish it up.

TransCanada even avoided some possible regulatory delays by simply digging under some stretches of Texas wetlands instead of running the pipeline across them, thus dodging the need for EPA review and approval, according to the Associated Press. (Yep, it seems if you dig far enough down under the wetlands, you don't have to actually get approval to run a pipeline under them.)

This stretch of pipeline runs 485 miles, from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Texas coast. (A 48-mile branch of the line will also run oil out to the Houston refineries from the main line.) Once it is up and running, the pipeline is expected to carry about 700,000 barrels per day from the pipeline hub in Cushing to Nederland. If the northern leg gets approved, the two parts will be hooked up and there will be a lot of tar sands oil getting refined around here.

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