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You are here News Environment Keystone XL pipeline may threaten aquifer that irrigates much of the central U.S.

Keystone XL pipeline may threaten aquifer that irrigates much of the central U.S.

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Keystone pipelineJane Kleeb is a savvy activist who, Nebraska’s Republican governor once said, “has a tendency to shoot her mouth off most days.” A Florida native who moved to Nebraska in 2007 after marrying a rancher active in Democratic politics, she did as much as anyone to bring the massive Keystone XL crude oil pipeline to a halt last year.

James Goecke is a counterpoint to Kleeb. A hydrogeologist and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he has been measuring water tables in Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region since 1970 and has shunned the political limelight — until now. He recently appeared in an ad for the pipeline’s owner, TransCanada, rebutting some of the arguments against the project and its new route.

Under ordinary circumstances, Kleeb and Goecke would be natural allies. Democrats in a red state, they both care about preserving Nebraska’s unique environment. Instead, they are divided over Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile steel pipeline that would carry heavy, low-quality crude from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas.

At the heart of their battle is whether the pipeline would pose a threat to the massive Ogallala Aquifer — one of the world’s largest underground sources of fresh water. By one calculation, it holds enough water to cover the country’s 48 contiguous states two feet deep. The Ogallala stretches beneath most of Nebraska from the Sand Hills in the west to the outskirts of Omaha. And it runs from South Dakota well past Lubbock, Tex.

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