WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - The spotlight on TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline has obscured another project that would send more Canadian oil sands petroleum to the United States, but this one too is struggling for traction.
Enbridge Inc hopes to expand its Clipper pipeline that currently sends up to 500,000 barrels of oil per day from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, in order to further tap Western Canada's oil sands, the world's third-largest crude oil reserve, behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
The first expansion would be 120,000 bpd, and the second would be 230,000 bpd. Both would increase the pipeline's capacity by adding horsepower to pumping stations. If completed, the full pipeline would rival TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL's planned capacity of more than 800,000 bpd.
Enbridge's Clipper expansions have largely escaped the attention of environmentalists focused on Keystone.
The company also hopes to avoid the application delays at the State Department that have stymied Keystone. But exactly when the expansions would get the green light is not known.
"As was the case with the Keystone XL, the State Department is under no set timeline for Clipper's environmental impact statement," a department official said on condition of anonymity about the status of the expansion applications.
The Obama administration's final decision on Keystone had been expected this summer after the State Department issued a final environmental assessment in January. The review concluded that the project would not add to emissions because the oil would find its way to market whether or not the pipeline is built.
But last week the State Department announced it would not make a decision on Keystone until the Supreme Court of Nebraska, a state the pipeline would cross, settles a dispute concerning the pipeline's route. That will likely push a final decision, already pending for more than five years, past the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
Unlike Keystone, the Alberta Clipper is already built and operational, having received an original permit in 2009.
But like Keystone, Enbridge needs a presidential permit for the expansions. Before it gets one, a third-party contractor must complete a supplementary environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion.
The assessment has begun after the State Department on April 1 chose Maryland-based Potomac Hudson Engineering to do the study, the official said.
Enbridge did not respond to questions about when it expects approvals, but earlier this month CEO Mark Maki said they will be delayed until July 2015.
Meanwhile, now that Keystone is on ice for several months, environmentalists could turn their attention to the Clipper.
"You will see some intensity building around Alberta Clipper line, that said, we want to keep the intensity up on Keystone," said Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. "We definitely want to continue to put the pressure on the administration to do a variety of things to keep tar sands in the ground, that's the ultimate goal."
Reporting by Timothy Gardner, editing by Ros Krasny and Gunna Dickson