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Keystone XL pipeline pits jobs against the environment

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters say it would mean 20,000 jobs. Opponents worry about the impact on the vast Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to eight states.

By Staff writer / October 1, 2011

Demonstrators for and against the Keystone XL pipeline gather near the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday. The proposed pipeline would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Opponents are concerned about the pipeline's effect on the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast subterranean reservoir that provides water to eight states, while supporters of the pipeline, which include labor unions and business groups, point to jobs and energy security.

Nati Harnik/AP

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Clashes over the proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline took place throughout the Great Plains states this week as public hearings allowed supporters and opponents to make their case for or against what is proposed as the longest oil pipeline in North America.

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The US State Department held public hearings in Texas, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma – all states that will be impacted if the Obama administration approves the $7 billion, 36-inch pipeline that is designed to travel nearly 2,000 miles delivering Canadian oil to markets in the Gulf of Mexico.

A State Department environmental impact statement released in late August said the pipeline, operated by TransCanada, would cause minimal impact on the environment. Union organizations and business interests say the pipeline will reduce the nation’s dependence on overseas oil and create jobs while environmentalists, local farmers and some state government leaders question the company’s safety record.

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Opponents of Keystone XL also say the government has been lax in regulating oil companies. Two examples from last year that were frequently referenced at the hearings: the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and another, smaller, spill in Michigan that polluted a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.

At particular risk, they say, is the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground water supply that is the greatest irrigation source to the nation’s farmland, supplying eight states. Because 65 percent of the aquifer is in Nebraska, the national fight is focused there.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R), who is against the pipeline, is asking the State Department to require TransCanada to reroute the pipeline away from the aquifer if it eventually wins approval.

According to reports, the hearings drew more supporters than opponents, in many cases due to union workers who were bused in from other states to provide testimony.

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