Keystone XL Pipeline: New Route, Same Threat



The proposed route of the Keystone XL’s oil pipeline has been changed – but not by much.

No energy project has been more controversial this year than the fate of this cross-border, 1,600 mile pipeline. In January, after months of protest from environmental groups who claimed that the pipeline threatened water supplies and would mean “game over” for the global climate and after Congress passed a payroll tax cut extension that required the President to make a decision on the pipeline within 60 days, President Obama denied a permit to the pipeline’s company, TransCanada. This prompted a firestorm by Keystone’s advocates, including many members of Congress, who say that the pipeline is needed to create jobs and support North American energy security.

Many of those who oppose the pipeline’s construction pointed to the pipeline’s route as one of the main issues. If built, the pipeline would begin in Alberta, Canada, where oil from “tar sands” is currently extracted, and cross Midwestern and southern U.S. states to the Gulf of Mexico.  This route falls directly above the Ogallalla Aquifer, one the largest freshwater aquifers in the world and an essential water source for millions of Americans living and working in the Midwest. This route also crosses the Nebraskan Sandhills, a particularly sensitive ecological area where groundwater lies extremely close to the surface. Facing opposition from Nebraskan residents and lawmakers, TransCanada has proposed a new plan: The new route, submitted last week by TransCanada to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, runs east and avoids the Sandhills region. However, this route does not dodge the sensitive Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies most of Nebraska, and thus many argue it still poses an unacceptable threat to our country’s water supply.

Last week, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint instrumentality of the Union for Reform Judaism, its affiliates and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, discussed the Keystone XL pipeline during its biannual meeting. After exploring the issue’s implications for North American energy policy and hearing from University of Michigan-Dearborn Lecturer Barry Wauldon, the CSA adopted a resolution noting the significant environmental concerns at play in the pipeline’s construction and use.

Before moving forward, we need to be clear on the best ways to meet our energy needs and the threat posed by the Keystone XL pipeline to our water supplies and the countless ecosystems and human communities that rely on the Ogallala Aquifer – even if the Sandhills are avoided. As new federal environmental impact studies occur, the Obama Administration must consider how and if its climate and strategic goals fall in line with the construction of this pipeline.

Image courtesy of Los Angeles Times.

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Susan Paykin

About Susan Paykin

Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She is a native of Oakland, NJ, and recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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