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.
In some places the aquifer is buried 1,200 feet deep, but in many places it is at or very close to the surface, often less than five feet below ground. In these places, you can literally stick a stake in the ground and hit water. Extensive stretches of Nebraska’s plains require no irrigation; to keep cattle watered, ranchers just dig a hole and the water flows in.
That’s where concerns about the Keystone XL came in. Its original route traversed 92 miles of the Sand Hills and the Ogallala. TransCanada, which said it would bury the pipeline at least four feet underground, could in many places be putting it in water.
If the pipeline should spring a leak where it touches the aquifer or even above it, Kleeb and other opponents say, oil could quickly seep into and through the porous, sandy soil. The Ogallala, Kleeb said last year in a television interview, is “a very fragile ecosystem, literally made of sand. . . . To have a pipeline crossing that region is just mind-boggling.”
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Keystone XL pipeline may threaten aquifer that irrigates much of the central U.S. - The Washington Post: