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Debate stirs over delayed Keystone XL

Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club speaks against the Keystone XL pipeline project at a State Department hearing to consider if it is in the U.S. national interest in Washington, DC, on October 7, 2011. The pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada through nine U.S. states to Houston, Texas. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg
Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club speaks against the Keystone XL pipeline project at a State Department hearing to consider if it is in the U.S. national interest in Washington, DC, on October 7, 2011. The pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada through nine U.S. states to Houston, Texas. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- A critic of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline said environmental risks are great but backers are saying the benefits are too good to ignore.

A decision on TransCanada's plans to build a pipeline to carry oil from tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the southern U.S. coast is on hold while regulators examine possibilities for a new route through Nebraska.

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Nebraska officials wanted to revise the planned route because initial plans put the pipeline over an aquifer that supplies drinking water for millions of people.

Alex Pourbaix, president of oil pipelines for TransCanada, told U.S. lawmakers that if Washington didn't act quickly, Americans would lose out on the substantial economic benefits of the project.

"This project is needed, the benefits are clear but time is of the essence to receive the approvals we need so Americans can begin to experience to experience the benefits of Keystone," he said.

Critics of Keystone XL point to a 2010 rupture of Line 6B of the Lakehead oil pipeline system in southern Michigan. Crews one year later were still cleaning up a river contaminated by Alberta crude because most of it had sunk to the bottom and mixed in with the sediment.

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Jane Fleming Kleeb, director of advocacy group Bold Nebraska, said caution is warranted for tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL.

"This pipeline is risky," she testified. "It is massive and we literally have no long-term study on how tar sands affect land, water or our health."

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