Backers of the Keystone XL Pipeline are not discouraged by the Nov. 18 Senate defeat of a bill to allow the project to proceed. They expect the Republican majority in the next Congress to vote for approval. Still, the controversial project has some hurdles to clear.

TransCanada Corp. proposed the 1,179-mile, $8-billion KXL project in 2005 to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Hardisty, Alberta, to a connection in Nebraska with its existing Keystone Pipeline system, which delivers Canadian heavy oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In January 2014, the environmental impact statement for the project concluded that it probably would not significantly increase carbon emissions.

The EIS, prepared for the State Dept., cleared the way for a 90-day review by other federal agencies, but it was suspended in April, when a Nebraska district court found the governor had exceeded his authority in approving passage for the pipeline through the state. The case went to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which is expected to rule any day. President Obama has said he will not approve the permit until the decision has been announced.

"While we are buoyed by the bipartisan support we have received, the bottom line is that KXL still requires a presidential permit," says Mark Cooper, TransCanada spokesman. "If the bill passes Congress with any less than 67 votes, the president can still veto it." Major materials, workforce-camp infrastructure, most permits and rights-of-way are in place already, he adds.

Design engineering has been completed, but no construction contracts have been awarded. "As the majority of materials have been procured and the detailed design is complete, construction will be typically executed with construction-only contracts," Cooper says.

Contractor groups in Nebraska say labor is very tight now. Bruce Kevil, state president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, doesn't expect that to affect XL because pipeline workers generally travel with ABC contractors, he says.