Oklahoma oil producers will soon find it easier to get their crude to Gulf Coast refineries as the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline is expected to become operational Jan. 3, according to the Associated Press.

The 485-mile pipeline will carry up to 700,000 barrels per day from Cushing to the Houston area after its expected opening on Jan. 3.

The pipeline's northern leg from Canada into the U.S. has been opposed by environmental groups and delayed for more than five years... The southern leg doesn't cross an international border and doesn't require presidential approval.

President Barack Obama visited Cushing in 2012 and urged construction of the southern leg from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas.

In a report from Adam Wilmoth of Tulsa World, Vice Chairman Jeff Hume with Oklahoma City-based Strategic Growth Initiatives said that the pipeline will open larger markets for oil from the mid-continental U.S.

"It's a very positive move for us," said Tony Say, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Clearwater Enterprises LLC. "We have a lot of oil being developed in the state. Having another outlet going south is very positive for us."

TransCanada, builder of the Keystone pipeline, said construction of the southern leg or 'Gulf Coast' Pipeline began in August 2012 with an anticipated in service date of late 2013. The Gulf Coast Pipeline will have the initial capacity to transport 700,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) with the potential to transport 830,000 bbl/d to Gulf Coast refineries.