The Obama administration is extending the agency review period for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, potentially delaying the decision until after the November elections — sparing President Obama a tough political decision in the process.

A senior State Department official said agencies have stopped crafting comments because a Nebraska Supreme Court decision could change the pipeline route and, ultimately, the environmental, socioeconomic and cultural factors that went into the environmental review. The official did not directly answer a question whether an altered pipeline route would require a new environmental review.

“The key thing that we need to better understand is whether the current route will still pertain,” said the official, who did not commit to a timeline for a final decision on the pipeline. “Then we will have to make a judgment as to whether additional work needs to be done.”

The Nebrasks Supreme Court isn’t supposed to rule on the Keystone XL route for several months. Republican Gov. Dave Heineman approved it through a 2012 state law that a lower court struck down in February.

That likely puts a final decision after the midterms, meaning Obama won’t anger his environmental base by approving Keystone XL or jeopardize the re-election prospects for a handful of vulnerable Senate Democrats by rejecting the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

The pipeline, whose builder, TransCanada Corp., must secure a cross-border permit from the State Department to finish the northern leg, is under an interagency review that was supposed to wrap up in May. State said, however, that it’s continuing to process 2.5 million public comments that will be used to determine whether Keystone XL is in the national interest.

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