Keystone XL, Clean Water and Democracy
Posted Nov 22, 2011 by Sandra Postel
[Extract] Bravo for Nebraskans.
In today’s economy, job creation trumps just about everything. But for Nebraskans, at least one thing ranks higher – and that’s protecting their precious water sources. They know, as we all should, that ample clean water is crucial for economic vitality now and for generations to come.
Nebraska’s citizens and representatives rose up — along with many others across the country — and spoke out against the proposed route for Keystone XL, the $7 billion pipeline that would deliver half a million barrels of dirty crude laden with dangerous carcinogens from the Canadian tar sands to refineries in Oklahoma and along the Gulf Coast.
In a significant victory for the Cornhuskers’ state, Canadian pipeline developer TransCanada announced earlier this week that it would move the pipeline route away from the ecologically sensitive Sandhills. That announcement came on the heels of the Obama Administration’s decision to delay final word on the pipeline in order to explore alternative routes, a delay spurred in no small part by pressure from Nebraskan officials. The U.S. State Department expects the review to take at least a year.
As originally proposed, the 1,700-mile pipeline would have crossed Nebraska’s unique and precious Sandhills, a rare native-prairie ecosystem of wetlands, lakes and grass-covered hills that spans about one-fourth of the state.
The Sandhills are also a crucial recharge zone for the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground water reserve that supplies drinking water to several million people in the Great Plains as well as 30 percent of all the groundwater used for irrigation nationwide.
The region’s sandy soils allow rainfall to seep rapidly in and replenish the groundwater supply below. Those same sandy soils, however, could allow tar sands crude from a leaky pipeline to seep into the precious Ogallala.
So the decision to avoid the Sandhills in siting Keystone XL is good news, for sure.
But a declaration of victory for safe, clean water is highly premature...
Originally published November 16, 2011 at National Geographic
Image credit:Prairie Irrigation near Hebron, Nebraska. Photo credit: cc/George Thomas