Keystone XL and the Ogallala Aquifer: The Stakes Couldn't Be Higher
3.18.2014 · Jesse Thomas
As we’ve seen in places like Mayflower, Arkansas, a tar sands pipeline spill can have devastating consequences for the communities in its path — disrupting sensitive ecosystems, displacing families and causing long-term health problems. But the stakes are even higher for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would cross the Ogallala Aquifer.
One of the largest aquifer systems in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer spans 174,000 square-miles beneath eight states. It supplies drinking water for 2 million people—more than 80 percent of the people in the Great Plains—and is a critical source of irrigation for 13 million acres of land. But the Keystone XL pipeline, if built along the route approved by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman last year, could threaten this critical groundwater supply.
Keystone XL would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude across the Ogallala Aquifer each day— including some places where the groundwater lies beneath less than 10 feet of sandy, permeable soil. If the pipeline were to spill or leak, it could potentially contaminate the primary water supply relied upon by millions of residents, as well as the agricultural industry that is the region’s economic backbone. And there would be no easy fix for TransCanada.
The risk of a spill is far from hypothetical. In fact, the existing Keystone pipeline spilled over 30 times in its first year of operation, and the southern leg of Keystone XL was found to have dozens of anomalies along a 60 mile stretch in east Texas. TransCanada’s safety record has come under heavy scrutiny in light of recent revelations that it is not in compliance with Canadian safety regulations and does not intend to use the latest safety technology to detect spills along the Keystone XL route.
TransCanada wants Americans to shoulder all of the risk of the Keystone XL pipeline, with zero reward. We can’t afford to risk the livelihoods of millions of Americans for the sake of Big Oil’s bottom line.