Barack Obama, the US president, is facing a difficult political decision over approval for a controversial oil pipeline

If constructed, the 2,700km Keystone pipeline would carry oil from the Canadian province of Alberta all the way to the US state of Texas, and create thousands of jobs in a currently stagnant economy.

Hundreds of people protested against the pipeline last summer, arguing that similar projects have hurt fragile ecosystems, water quality, and rural farms in the US.

Under pressure from opponents, the Obama administration in November said it needed 12 to 18 months to study the environmental impacts of the project, saying it would put off approving the pipeline until after the 2012 presidential elections.

But, Congressional Republicans argued the White House was just stonewalling because of the political ramifications.

Approving the pipeline will alienate environmental groups, a major part of the president’s support base. Rejecting the project will push away labour groups, who are also big Obama backers.

So, the Republicans have forced the president's hand.

As part of the payroll tax cut legislation Obama was eager to pass in December, Conservatives tucked in a provision requiring a decision on the pipeline by the end of next month.

The American Petroleum Institute, which has more than 400 industry members, is the latest group to warn of political consequences if the pipeline is not approved.

Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett reports from Washington.

Source: Al Jazeera