President Barack Obama said Wednesday his administration has made no decision on whether a Canadian company can proceed with plans for a transnational oil pipeline to Texas.
A protester during Obama's appearance at the University of Colorado Denver yelled out that the president should say no to the contested Keystone XL project.
Obama said his administration was looking into the issue but had made no decision. He told the protester: "I know your deep concern about it. We will address it."
Obama's comments came as a State Department official hinted that a decision on the pipeline may be delayed until next year. Officials have pledged to decide by the end of the year. The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
A senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified because the department was still reviewing the project, said, "While we are working towards a timely decision by the end of the year, our foremost commitment is to a thorough review and assessment of information and to make a decision based on the best available data and analysis."
The proposed pipeline has prompted protests nationally and demonstrators have been arrested in front of the White House. Demonstrators protested outside one of Obama's fundraisers Tuesday in San Francisco.
The pipeline would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. The 1,700-mile pipeline would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
In a related development, 13 Democratic lawmakers and a Democratic-leaning independent sent a Wednesday letter requesting that the State Department inspector general investigate the department's handling of the pipeline application.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., along with 11 House members, said they were disturbed by media reports that a company that performed an environmental review on behalf of the State Department had listed pipeline developer TransCanada as a "major client."
The lawmakers asked the inspector general to look at all contractual or financial relationships between the consultant, Houston-based Cardno Entrix, and TransCanada.
They also asked for a review of State Department emails involving a TransCanada lobbyist who had worked in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
Clinton told The Associated Press earlier this month that she had "no reason to believe" there was a conflict of interest involving the TransCanada lobbyist, Paul Elliott.
The underground pipeline would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels of oil a day, doubling the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada.
Supporters say the line could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, while opponents say it would bring "dirty oil" that requires huge amounts of energy to extract and could cause an ecological disaster in case of a spill.
Daly reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.