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Is Our Water Safe?

The Keystone XL pipeline has been moving forward without hindrance, although President Obama did place a delay on the proposal.

However, it appears as though it will be approved, and will be installed, pumping oil across the country.

One area the pipeline would traverse is the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer, which is one of the nation’s most important sources of drinking and irrigation water.

It would make sense to ensure that if there were to be an unfortunate and disastrous leak or spill, an incredibly important water source would not be damaged or destroyed. However, sense did not prevail in the planning of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer is poised for continual high risk situations.

Austin, Texas is not new to the pipeline business—the Longhorn pipeline was installed in 1998 which stretched over another aquifer. Activists were successful in lawsuits which forced the pipeline operator to add $60 million in safety features, which doesn’t appear to be happening in the Keystone pipeline debate. Additionally, the Longhorn pipeline is the safest pipeline in Texas, and some say the safest in the nation.

Yet TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone pipeline, is unwilling to spend $10 million—roughly 0.2 percent of the pipeline’s $5.3 billion budget—to add features the Longhorn pipeline has that would drastically improve the safety of the pipeline, i.e. protective concrete caps, daily aerial or foot patrols.

TransCanada says the project meets or exceeds federal pipeline standards, which it certainly might, in which case the problem is not the company, but rather the safety standards. It is interesting the company says such things, considering none of the major safety features which protect Austin’s much smaller aquifer have been included in the plan. The leak detection technology that will be used on the Keystone pipeline is standard for the nation’s crude oil pipelines and rarely detects leaks smaller than 1 percent of the pipeline’s flow. The Keystone XL will have a capacity of 29 million gallons per day—a spill would have to reach and exceed 294,000 gallons per day to trigger the leak detection.

If it wasn’t bad enough for the pipeline to be installed over a vast area of land which provides many environmental and ecological benefits, the company that is leading the project doesn’t seem to care about safety.

America has been able to dodge other man-made disasters involving oil, but if catastrophe ever strikes the Keystone XL pipeline, it is difficult to imagine a recovery.

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