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The Keystone pipeline, shown here under construction

TransCanada Corp. has shut down a major pipeline and expects it to be out of commission for three days.

The company stopped moving oil through its Keystone pipeline Wednesday after finding "a small anomaly on the outside of the pipe after analyzing the data from an in-line inspection tool," Grady Semmens, a TransCanada spokesman, said in an e-mail Thursday. The Calgary-based company has not detected any leaks on the system but shut it down as a precaution, Mr. Semmens added.

TransCanada wants to expand the Keystone network so oil sands crude can reach refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama last year delayed making a decision whether to approve the pipeline, and the company has since proposed an alternate route in Nebraska in order to protect the environmentally delicate Sand Hills region.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he will immediately approve the Keystone XL, which expands on the existing Keystone network, if he wins the election. Some observers believe Mr. Obama put off making his decision until after the coming November vote to avoid political backlash rather than basing his decision on environmental concerns.

"We expect the [Keystone] system to be down for three days before it is re-started," Mr. Semmens said. "Once restart happens we expect normal operations and flows for the remainder of October."

Environmentalists have already struck back at TransCanada's most recent pipeline problem, arguing heavy oil pipelines will "eventually fail."

"The reason TransCanada needs to keep shutting down Keystone is because pipelines are inherently dangerous," Joe Mendelson, the climate and energy policy director at National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement. "The best approach to our energy challenges isn't building more pipelines, it's embracing clean energy solutions that don't spill or explode."

Oil sands producers, as well as companies operating in North Dakota, are keen to have Keystone XL approved because it would increase the price they receive for their crude. There is a glut of oil at Cushing, Okla., one of North America's refining hubs, and that is keeping North American oil prices below the international benchmark.

Meanwhile, Enbridge Inc. wants to build a pipeline to Canada's west coast to access Asian markets and Kinder Morgan Inc. wants to expand its Trans Mountain line to a port near Vancouver. This would also jack up the price oil sands producers receive because the crude would eventually reach Asia, where prices are higher. All three pipeline companies face environmental opposition, but also enjoy support from industry and some politicians.