WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chief executive of a Canadian company that wants to pipe oil from tar sands in western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast says he is surprised at the opposition the project has generated.

Russ Girling of Calgary-based TransCanada, said Friday he did not expect the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to become a "lightning rod" in the debate over fossil fuels and alternative energy. The company installed a similar pipeline less than three years ago with little opposition.

Environmental activists, religious groups and young people inspired by the protests against Wall Street plan are protesting the 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) pipeline, which would travel through six states.

The State Department is holding a hearing on the $7 billion project. A decision is expected in December.

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