By Selam Gebrekidan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to occur in 2013, Canada's natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, said on Monday.
"It is now looking like it's not going to be completed this year," Oliver said in an interview with Reuters.
The U.S. State Department has yet to complete an environmental review of the project, which has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups. The pipeline would link oil sands fields in western Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refiners.
Experts have said this may push the final decision to next year, but Canadian officials have not officially commented on a specific time line for the project.
Oliver said he expects the State Department to submit the environmental impact statement this year, "hopefully soon." That will be followed by a period of public comment.
The project's approval is contingent on a positive response from the multiple U.S. agencies involved, he said. The U.S. president will have to make the final decision if a consensus isn't achieved.
"I certainly believe that if all the facts are taken into consideration, it will be approved. But I'm not going to handicap the odds at this point," Oliver said.
The proposed pipeline is "the most studied energy project in the history of the world," Oliver said.
He declined to comment on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's letter to U.S. President Barack Obama offering environmental concessions that will allow the project to move ahead.
(Reporting by Selam Gebrekidan; Editing by David Gregorio and Steve Orlofsky)