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TransCanada still expects year-end Keystone ruling

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TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T) said on Wednesday it still expects a U.S. State Department ruling on its $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline plan by the end of the year, despite comments by U.S. President Barack Obama suggesting a delay of several months.

Obama's remarks on Tuesday were the latest from U.S. officials over the past week suggesting that the approval of the controversial pipeline from Alberta to Texas could be pushed back.

"They've outlined to us that they'll make a decision by year-end, and until we've been told otherwise we'll continue to work toward that direction," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said.

Obama told a Nebraska television station that he expects the State Department to give him its report "over the next several months". He will then make a decision based on health and economic factors.

Cunha said TransCanada has been operating under the impression that the State Department's word, which includes a decision on granting a presidential permit allowing the line to cross the Canada-U.S.border, would be final.

However, Obama said he will be weighing the department's recommendations.

"It does sound like that from what I've read, but again, we haven't been told otherwise," Cunha said.

The project is already about a year behind its initial schedule following an extended review process that has included draft and final environmental impact statements and public comment periods. The process is now in its 39th month, the company said.

Canada's biggest pipeline operator has said Keystone XL, which would ship 700,000 barrels a day of oil sands-derived crude to refineries in Texas from the Alberta oil sands, will bolster U.S. energy security and create thousands of jobs.

Opponents, such as environmental groups, have warned it will raise the risk of oil spills in environmentally sensitive regions and foster more development of the oil sands, which is more carbon-intensive than conventional crude.

TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said on Tuesday that another extended delay in the regulatory process would lead oil shippers and refiners to abandon their support for the project, rendering it uneconomic to build.

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