The White House said on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama would make a decision on whether to grant a permit to TransCanada Corporation for the Keystone XL oil pipeline before he leaves office in January 2017.
"Our expectation at this point is that the president will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline, but when exactly that will be, I don't know at this point," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
When asked whether the decision could come this year, Earnest said, "It's possible - it's also possible it could happen next year."
TransCanada is the Calgary-based company behind the proposed pipeline and requested for a pause in the approval process until after Obama’s term after the White House said it planned to rule on the $8 billion project before the end of Obama’s term.
However, US State Department said on Tuesday that it would continue its review process.
"TransCanada has not withdrawn their permit application. In a letter to Secretary Kerry they requested a pause in the review process. We have received their letter to Secretary Kerry, we're in the process of sending a response. Our review process is ongoing. So at this stage we've received the letter, we will issue a response, but we're going to continue our review process," said State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.
According to the White House, “there might be politics at play” in the company’s decision for a pause.
Some researchers said that the company might be waiting in hopes that the next president would welcome the project.
The company had complained about delays from Obama administration for years and aggressively demanded the pipeline project be approved as soon as possible.
Republicans have supported the project saying that it will create much needed jobs. However, many Democrats and environmentalists have opposed the project saying the pipeline would add to carbon emissions and contribute to global warning.
All the Democratic candidates for president, including front-runner Hillary Clinton, have also opposed the project.
In February, Obama rejected a Republican bill which approved the pipeline.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a strong proponent of the project. However, his successor Justin Trudeau is less persistent than Harper on the issue although he is also a supporter of the pipeline.
The Keystone XL pipeline project was first submitted more than six years ago but then it stagnated. The project is awaiting a permit required by the federal government because the pipeline would pass an international boundary.
The 1,200-mile (2,000-km) pipeline would carry heavy crude oil from Alberta to Nebraska and on to Gulf Coast refineries. It also would help link Canada's heavy oil fields to US. refineries.
The Keystone XL would send more than 800,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil to Nebraska. The oil would go through to refineries and ports along the US Gulf Coast from there.