President Obama to Head to Oklahoma Site of Southern Portion of Keystone Pipeline Project

Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

President Obama will visit Cushing, Oklahoma, on Thursday, where he will visit the southern part of the Keystone Pipeline project - the portion that is proceeding with Obama administration support, as opposed to the northern section that the president blocked out of environmental concerns.

The Obama administration has been playing defense on energy issues, with skyrocketing gas prices threatening to hurt the fragile economic recovery and undermine consumer confidence. Accused by Republicans of not doing enough to encourage domestic oil production, the president has given three speeches on energy in the last three weeks. The president has heralded how domestic oil production has increased, and domestic consumption has decreased, during his administration, but energy experts say his policies have little to do with those developments.

"The president has talked about that while there's no silver bullet to solve this problem, where there are steps we can take to address the real problem we're going to take those steps," a senior administration official told ABC News. "In Cushing, there's a bottleneck, a glut of oil, and this pipeline will solve that problem."

White House officials hope this trip to Cushing, Oklahoma, will erase political damage done to the president by his opposition to the larger Keystone project by heralding his support for part of it. In February, the Pew Research Center indicated that 63% of the public had heard at least a little about the Keystone project. Of those individuals, 66% believe that the government should approve the project.

Oklahoma will be one stop in a four-state trip next week in which the president will herald what he describes as an "all of the above" approach to energy. The other visits will include a solar power plant in Boulder City, Nevada, and oil and gas fields in Carlsbad, New Mexico on Wednesday. On Thursday the president will visit Cushing, ending the trip with an energy-themed speech at Ohio State University in Columbus, a university that White House officials describe as being home to some of the country's most advanced energy-related alternative energy vehicle research and development.

Last month TransCanada Corporation announced it would seek approval for the part of the Keystone Pipeline project leading from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Texas refineries in the Gulf. The company said constructing that part of the pipeline would create roughly 4,000 jobs, both in construction and in supporting those workers, and cost $2.3 billion. The company said it hoped this smaller portion would be working by 2013.

In a statement at the time, White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama welcomed the news. "As the President made clear in January, we support the company's interest in proceeding with this project," he said, "which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight year high. Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production. We look forward to working with TransCanada to ensure that it is built in a safe, responsible and timely manner, and we commit to take every step possible to expedite the necessary Federal permits."

The political twists and turns of the TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL oil pipeline have woven their way through the debate about energy policy in the past six months. In November, the State Department announced it would delay a decision on the proposed Keystone project to allow for further study of the environmental impact along its 1,700-mile route. The president was stuck between environmentalists and many residents of Nebraska, who opposed the project due to concerns about how it would impact its water supply, and labor unions and others who heralded the jobs the pipeline would create.

TransCanada has said the project would create "more than 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 spin off jobs during construction." The State Department had a more conservative estimate, saying "the construction work force would consist of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers."

Last November, President Obama told ABC Omaha, Nebraska, TV station KETV, that "folks in Nebraska like all across the country aren't going to say to themselves, 'We'll take a few thousand jobs if it means our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health. We don't want, for example, aquifers to be adversely affected. Folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted."

In December, House Republicans inserted in a bill extending the payroll tax cut, a priority of the president's, a requirement that the president officially make a decision on the pipeline within two months. The president did so in January, rejecting the project because of the "rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans" which he said "prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment." Republicans have seized on the issue as an example of the president putting the environment ahead of jobs.