The July 22 issue of this newspaper contained a critique I wrote about a proposal by TransCanada to construct a 1,661-mile-long pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the Texas coast to transport bitumen, a low- grade petroleum product, mined in Alberta. As proposed, the pipeline, designated Keystone XL, would traverse the Sandhills region of Nebraska, where the world’s largest freshwater reservoir, the Ogallala Aquifer is close to, and in some places reaches, the surface. The aquifer supplies drinking water to residents of the Nebraska Sandhills and to many in seven other states.
An article written by Ted Williams in Audubon magazine detailed the adverse environmental impacts of the project that would result if it were to be permitted. Oil industry supporters of the project insist that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent rupture of the pipeline, but according to the Center for Biological Diversity, TransCanada’s existing pipeline, Keystone 1, has reportedly leaked 14 times since it began operating in June 2010.
Leakage of the pipeline is not the only concern of farmers, landowners, and others opposed to the proposal. Destruction of vast tracts of Alberta’s boreal forest, stream pollution from the strip mining for the oil sands, and toxic tailing ponds are causing deaths of thousands of birds and scores of woodland caribou, black bears, deer, moose, muskrats, beavers, voles, martens, wolves, red foxes, and bats. During the spring of 2008, 1,600 ducks died after landing in a tailing pond operated by a tar sands company. (National Wildlife, Dec.-Jan. issue).