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July 26, 2010

Dirtiest Oil in the World Threatens Breadbasket Water Supply

The high plains are the breadbasket of America, and the Ogallala aquifer beneath them supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle produced in the United States. The Ogallala is the single most important source of water in the High Plains region, providing nearly all the water for residential, industrial, and agricultural use.

Enter the Keystone XL pipeline, the latest proposed expansion of the largest industrial project on earth- the Alberta tar sands.

The Keystone XL will consist of 1,700 miles of pipe, cutting through farms and communities across the high plains from Alberta to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast regions. The proposed route of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline traverses the deepest sections of the Ogallala Aquifer- the largest aquifer in the United States.

About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the US lies above this aquifer system. The total water storage is akin to the volume of Lake Huron.

The future economy of the High Plains depends heavily on the Ogallala Aquifer, the main source of water for all uses. The Ogallala is literally the lifeblood of the region, and must be carefully safeguarded against depletion and contamination.

Yet the State Department is considering granting permits to TransCanada, the pipeline owner, to operate the proposed pipeline at higher pressure and with thinner steel than industry standards allow.

This high-pressure pipeline would carry the world’s dirtiest oil four feet underground, when the Ogallala aquifer is already visible at depths of three feet or less. This pipeline will clearly put the entire high plains water resources at risk.

Pipelines already in place leaked 126,000 gallons in one incident alone- and more recently spewed over 800,000 gallons into a Michigan river. These pipes operate at lower volumes and pressure than the proposed Keystone XL expansion.

Local residents are expressing concern over the pipeline, and an ongoing poll in the Rapid City Journal shows strong opposition to the project.

Many are rightly wondering why we should invest in a risky, dirty source of energy when the potential exists for clean energy across the prairie states. Many states along the pipeline route, including the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska, have some of the highest wind energy potential in the United States.

This $12 billion dollar pipeline project will lock us into reliance on the dirtiest oil in the world, when we could be investing in creating self-sufficient, clean sources of energy in the US that will never run out- like wind and solar.

The tragic gulf oil spill provides a fresh reminder of the risks inherent in our oil addiction. Piping more dirty tar sands oil through our largest freshwater aquifer is not the solution.

If we choose today to invest in self-sufficiency and clean energy to provide for the future of American prosperity, we can make oil spills an inky page in the history books.

Read more on the Ogallala aquifer and how you can help protect this vital resource.

-- Gabriel DeRita

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