WASHINGTON – In a move aimed at speeding construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada announced Monday that it plans to build the southern portion first.

WASHINGTON – In a move aimed at speeding construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada announced Monday that it plans to build the southern portion first.

Construction of the pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to Gulf Coast oil refineries would not need the State Department approval that has so far scuttled the larger project.

At a cost of approximately $2.3 billion, the company hopes to complete the southern section by mid- to late 2013. It has also notified the State Department that it will resubmit its application for the northern portion of the pipeline.

Welspun in Little Rock is expected to supply half of the steel for the entire Keystone project that would link Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to oil refineries in Texas. TransCanada estimates that 332,800 tons of steel pipe will come from Welspun.

TransCanada said the southern section is needed now because there is an urgent demand for more pipeline capacity from Cushing to Texas refineries. Oil producers in Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota and Montana do not have access to enough pipeline capacity to transport their significant increase in production.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement Monday saying that President Barack Obama welcomed the news.

“We support the company’s interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing,” Carney said. “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.”

Carney said the Obama administration would take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits for construction.

The Keystone XL pipeline project was sidetracked four months ago over concerns that the proposed route of the pipeline could threaten sensitive aquifers in Nebraska. The State Department later rejected issuing a permit for the project saying it was not given enough time to study an alternative route.

In December, Welspun announced it was laying off 60 temporary workers because of the delay of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

But Welspun recently announced a $100 million expansion of its Little Rock facility, the second since the plant opened in April 2009. A year after the facility opened with 300 employees, Welspun announced plans to add 230 more jobs.

Located on 740 acres next to the Port of Little Rock, the plant produces pipe used around the world, primarily in the oil and gas industry, and has an annual production capacity of more than 350,000 tons of pipe.

The expansion will allow the plant to build a second building where it will manufacture 6-inch to 20-inch steel piping.