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Keystone XL Primer: How the Pipeline's Route Could Impact the Ogallala Aquifer

In the debate over TransCanada's controversial Cananda-to-Texas oil pipe, the Ogallala aquifer and the Nebraska sandhills have emerged as flashpoints

Aug 11, 2011
Pipeline next to water

The Canadian company TransCanada wants to build a 1,702-mile pipeline that will pass through Nebraska's Ogallala aquifer as it transports heavy crude oil from tar sands mines in Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline say it will improve U.S. energy security and decrease reliance on Middle Eastern oil. Opponents say that pipelines transporting oil sands crude raise the risk of spills and damage to aquifers and waterways, while extracting and processing the thick oil increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that on a "well-to-tank" basis the heavy crude extracted is 82 percent more carbon intensive than conventional oil. That estimate sits in a middle ground between widely varying claims offered by industry and environmentalists.
Since the pipeline will cross an international border, TransCanada must get a presidential permit from the State Department before it can build and operate the line. In July 2010, the EPA gave the State Department's first draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the project the lowest possible grade of "inadequate," creating an inter-agency tussle that has delayed the permit decision. Although a second draft EIS did better, the EPA said more analysis was still needed to fully evaluate the environmental risks. The State Department's final environmental review of Keystone XL is expected this month.

The Ogallala aquifer has emerged as an important point in the debate. In June, two scientists from Nebraska called for a special study to determine how an oil spill would affect it, and Republican Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska has asked the State Department to consider an alternate, more easterly route that would avoid it. Twenty scientists from top research institutions recently signed a letter urging President Obama not to approve the pipeline because of environmental concerns.

Here's a primer on why people are worried.

Why is the Ogallala Aquifer So Important?

Because it's the most heavily used aquifer in the United States and supplies about 30 percent of the groundwater pumped for irrigation nationwide. The Ogallala aquifer (also known as the High Plains aquifer) covers 175,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of California, and spans eight states — Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

Most of the residents in this region depend on the aquifer for their drinking water, and the farmers there produce about a fifth of America's agricultural output, worth at least $20 billion a year.

The Ogallala is particularly important to Nebraskans. It provides 78 percent of the water used by residents and industry and 83 percent of the state's irrigation water. Nebraska's farming industry contributed $15 billion to the state economy in 2009, worth 18 percent of Nebraska's gross domestic product for that year.

What Would Happen if Oil Leaked Into the Aquifer?

Pipeline going smoothly. Thanks Hillary. Your welcome Paul

The State Dept (Hillary) makes (made) the final desicion.  No Coincidence that TransCanada hired Hillary's former campaign manager Paul Elliot as thier chief lobbyist to Washington. 

Read up..


Renewable energy and business organizations

It seems to me that our efforts to use renewable energy to save the planet can never be successful if certain business organizations are not willing to sacrifice their profits. The new reports says that the government of Canada will not keep its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a result of excessive oil sand production. We call ourselves an environmentally conscious nation but our government is doing everything to damage this self-stereotype of ours.

"The U.S. Environmental

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that on a "well-to-tank" basis the heavy crude extracted is 82 percent more carbon intensive than conventional oil."

Sounds a bit high. The NRDC http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_10110501a.pdf puts the value lower on well to wheels (since you don't link to well to tank, define it, have to use the more common measurement), at 8 to 37% higher than US production average (not compared to the oil it would likely displace from Saudi, Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuala).


Pipeline vs Aquifer

The Bible says that man was put on this earth to be "stewards of the land".......Oil companies were put on this earth to make money and time and again spill oil on the land or in the water. Keep the pipeline AWAY from the Aquifer........we who depend on the water in that Aquifer will fight to keep it pure. Obviously Oil companies have never met Sandhill Citizens of Nebraska ? I am sure that those in Kansas and Oklahoma and other states that would be affected feel the same. Only the government officials who make their career out of kissing butt will back this move.

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