Claims that a contractor hired by the State Department to do a draft environmental impact report of the US-Canada Keystone XL pipeline project has a conflict of interest will likely delay a decision on project until at least January, the Hill reported Friday:

At issue is whether the contractor the department selected to perform a draft environmental review of Keystone hadties to pipeline builder TransCanada Corp.

Pipeline opponents say that firm, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), had previously done consulting work for the pipeline company. They say the review ERM conducted was flawed.

The draft review from ERM said Keystone wouldn’t accelerate growth of Canada’s oil sands, and therefore wouldn’t substantially boost greenhouse gas emissions. It concluded that rail transport and other pipelines would bring the oil sands to market.

Obama has at times appeared to be on the verge of approving the project — or at least making a decision — for years only to pull back under pressure from environmental groups. A decision was supposed to be announced in June, but the deadline slipped with little comment.

In a speech in June, Obama said he would approve the project if it could be shown that the “net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate” would not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. The ambiguous language has given him considerable wiggle room.

Groups like the Sierra Club are dead-set against the project, which would take oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. It has urged members to get “militant” in their efforts to oppose it. They have even managed to get the AFL-CIO to take a neutral stance on the project, despite that fact that it is supported by many construction unions.

The environmental groups oppose the project because it involves the further development of fossil fuels. Various scientific reports have found that approving Keystone is unlikely to damage the environment or add to pollution. A State Department report found will also create more than 42,000 jobs, albeit mostly temporary, construction-related ones.