CALGARY - The southern portion of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline is nearing startup, with oil shipments between Cushing, Okla., and Gulf Coast refineries expected to begin on Jan 22.

TransCanada began filling the US$2.3-billion line just over a week ago. In the coming weeks, some three million barrels of crude will be injected into the system.

"It's a continuous process of filling and testing and filling and testing, but at this point in time we haven't seen any sort of major issues or anything like that. It's gone very well," CEO Russ Girling said in an interview Tuesday.

TransCanada has gone through this process twice before — first, when its base Keystone system began delivering crude to the U.S. Midwest and then in February 2011 when the line was extended to Cushing, Okla., which is home to a huge oil storage hub.

"You learn as you go. We're getting better at these things," said Girling.

Once the line fill is complete, it's a matter of commissioning pump stations, meters and other equipment on the line, which will have initial capacity of 700,000 barrels a day.

The project is expected to add $250 million to TransCanada's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2014, Girling said.

TransCanada is still awaiting approval from the Obama administration to construct the US$5.4-billion northern portion of Keystone XL more than five years after it applied for a permit.

Girling said Tuesday that he's optimistic there will be a decision in the first quarter of 2014.

The company was able to move ahead with the Gulf Coast portion first because it doesn't cross the Canada-U.S. border.

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  • The 181 million metric tons of (CO2e) from Keystone XL is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars. This is more cars than are currently registered on the entire West Coast (California, Washington, and Oregon), plus Florida, Michigan, and New York – combined.

  • Between 2015 and 2050, the pipeline alone would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e. This amount is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.

  • If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would be responsible for emissions equal to that of 51 coal-fired power plants.

  • The International Energy Agency has said that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid a 2 degree C temperature rise.

  • U.S. demand for oil has declined since 2005 by 2.25 million barrels per day or the equivalent of almost three Keystone XL pipelines.

  • More on the oilsands and Canada’s environment:

  • Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands

    The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.

  • Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001

    This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.

  • Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.

  • Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001

    Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.

  • Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.

  • Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.

  • Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010

    So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.

  • Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005

    The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.

  • Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005

    Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.

  • Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.

  • Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010

    Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.

  • Tar Pit #3

    This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.