TransCanada wants the public to believe that the “new” proposed route for the Keystone XL tarsands export pipeline avoids ecologically sensitive regions in Nebraska. While the new route does not pass through the EPA-defined “Sand Hills” region, a map pushed on our state behind closed with TransCanada lobbyists, it does pass through sandy hills with the same porous soil and it does pass through the critical Ogallala Aquifer and other critical bodies of water.
The distinction between the region and the soil type is a game TransCanada wants to play, but landowners’ property rights, the environment and Nebraska’s water are not a game and citizens will not sit by and let TransCanada’s spin mislead the public and the route evaluation process.
Nebraska’s DEQ acknowledges the pipeline route is still too risky for sandy soil and thin aquifers. The NE DEQ states they hope TransCanada will move the pipeline route to avoid these areas. The is DEQ report is a step in the right direction.
Now we must know why the DEQ is now stating they do not have pipeline siting authority since that is why the Special Session on the pipeline was called. It’s also critical to remind ourselves that Heineman wrote to Sec. Clinton asking her to move the pipeline away from the Aquifer as part of our “national interest.”
“Rerouting the pipeline around the Ogallala Aquifer is in the national interest; therefore, I request that Secretary Clinton use her permitting authority to change the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” -Gov. Heineman
Gov. Heineman had to be corrected by a Congressional Research Memo and countless legal arguments that Nebraska is the one that holds pipeline siting authority and as a group that has worked on this for almost 3 years now we are sick and tired of politicians kicking the can to each other and no one standing up to do what is right.
The map below, based on University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources soil and water maps and reviewed by Dr. John Gates, clearly demonstrates that the proposed tar sands pipeline route will pass through soils formed in dominantly sandy materials—the same type of soil found in the Sand Hills Region—and right thru (or over) the Ogallala Aquifer.
The map does not show every body of water at-risk with TransCanada’s pipeline. Countless groundwater wells, wetlands, streams and other bodies of water like the Niobrara River and the Verdigre Creek are concerns that must be addressed by the Nebraska DEQ and the State Department.
Groups including Bold Nebraska, Nebraska Sierra Club, Nebraska Farmers Union, Lincoln 350.org, Nebraskans for Peace, Nebraska Audubon, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Faith, Power and Light and thousands of landowners and citizens demand our water, property rights and state are protected from this risky tarsands pipeline.
John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound (lb) of cure. In this case more prevention is still needed.”
Ken Winston, Nebraska Sierra Club: “The map being unveiled today is more consistent with the evidence that people of the area know from years of experience with their own senses. It shows the similarities between the areas on the DEQ’s map and soils and sensitive areas along the new route. DEQ’s map represents an arbitrary choice made without legislative authority, a classic distinction without a difference.”
Governor Heineman Was Against the Route Before He Was For It
On two separate occasions, Nebraska Governor Heineman referenced the Ogallala Aquifer as reasons for why he was opposed to the pipeline route. Governor Heineman stated that he would only support a route that avoided the sensitive aquifer. The “new” pipeline route still cuts thru the Aquifer:
- “I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska’s economy. I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer.”
- “Hopefully we could find a common sense solution that would benefit everyone. TransCanada could build a pipeline with a different route not over the Ogallala aquifer.”
Sandy Hills and the Sand Hills Region
The map being utilized to give TransCanada cover to say their new route does not cross the Sand Hills is a map that was pushed by TransCanada in a meeting with lobbyists and state senators behind closed doors. The EPA map gives a specific set of sandy hills the designation of the “Sand Hills,” but does not use soil data to demonstrate the same sensitive soil and low water table in other parts of the region. The EPA designation was never intended to be a source for deciding where it is appropriate to build a maximum capacity tarsands pipeline.
As soil maps show, the soils near the Sand Hills Region are also sandy hills, which are formed in dominantly sandy materials. An E&E News reporter recently wrote that, “A sandy hill without the Sand Hills label doesn’t ease the threat that [a local family along the route] and their vocal neighbors say the new pipeline path poses to their water.”
In the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Keystone XL Pipeline Evaluation Feedback Report, released yesterday, the NDEQ noted that the proposed route followed the law to avoid the region designated as the Sand Hills Region, but added: “However, there are areas along the proposed corridor where fragile soils and aquifer protection are concerns.”
- NDEQ notes that the proposed corridor still crosses areas of fragile, sandy soils that are outside of the Sand Hills ecoregion but that have surface features very similar to the Sand Hills.
- Because of the erodibility of these soils, Keystone should carefully consider route variations that will avoid these areas.
- Where avoidance is not possible, Keystone should document why avoidance is not possible and describe for NDEQ the measures that it will take to minimize disturbance to these areas.
Ogallala Aquifer and Nebraska’s Waterways
The Ogallala Aquifer is the United States’ largest freshwater source that provides drinking water for more than two million people and supplies approximately 30% of our country’s total irrigation water. A University of Nebraska at Lincoln study found that the pipeline is expected to experience up to 91 significant spills over a 50-year period—which could have catastrophic consequences for the critical water source.
The reason the sandy soil and Sand Hills discussion is relevant to the pipeline route is the relationship between sandy soil and the Ogallala Aquifer. The sandy soil serves as filter for snow and rain that replenish the Aquifer. This relationship and concerns about sandy soil were detailed in a memo—largely ignored by the State Department and Nebraska elected officials—by two leading experts, Dr. John Gates and Dr. Wayne Woldt.
“The route through the Sandhills has drawn special attention because of the region’s unique environmental conditions, which would make it particularly vulnerable to crude oil contamination in the event of a pipeline release. Briefly, these properties include: 1) very permeable sandy soils and sub-soils, 2) groundwater which is very near the surface in many locations, and 3) abundant groundwater-fed lakes and marshes. Concerns have been raised about damage to the water supply (the Sandhills is the most productive recharge zone for the Ogallala/High Plains Aquifer which is the sole water supply for numerous towns, ranches, and crop irrigation systems along the pipeline route) as well as ecosystems (the Sandhills dune/lake areas host unique aquatic settings).”
Further, a memo to the State Department from Blayne Renner at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality noted that the proposed route crosses the Niobrara River, where “impacts from spills, whether during construction or operation of the system, would have the potential to impact downstream segments in the National Wild and Scenic River system.”
In its Keystone XL Pipeline Feedback Report, the NDEQ went on to explain the risks to Nebraska’s waterways:
- There are areas along the corridor in which only thin unconfined aquifers exist and contain no developed cropland
- These aquifers often provide the only source of drinking water for local residents and livestock.
- Keystone should carefully consider route variations that will avoid these thin, unconfined aquifers.
You can help ensure the pipeline does not cross the Aquifer and gets out of sandy soil. Our goal is to stop this risky and unnecessary pipeline and we will stay engaged at every level ensuring our land, water and landowners property rights are protected.
1) Write letters to officials who have a role in the pipeline.
2) Comment on the NE DEQ process. Outside front-groups like Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Citizens often use tricks like robocalls to get comments into the DEQ to make it seem like Nebraskans support the pipeline. Let’s ensure the DEQ hears from folks not tricked by a robocall or fancy mailers.
3) We have lots of other ideas listed in our Summer To-Do List.