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Keystone XL Fear-Mongering, Take 200

From The Washington Post,  a typical “he said she said” story where the views of a anti-Keystone XL pipeline activist are paired with the views of a hydrologist who has worked in the area the pipeline would be running through for years:

Jane Kleeb is a savvy activist who, Nebraska’s Republican governor once said, “has a tendency to shoot her mouth off most days.” A Florida native who moved to Nebraska in 2007 after marrying a rancher active in Democratic politics, she did as much as anyone to bring the massive Keystone XL crude oil pipeline to a halt last year.

James Goecke is a counterpoint to Kleeb. A hydrogeologist and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he has been measuring water tables in Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region since 1970 and has shunned the political limelight — until now. He recently appeared in an ad for the pipeline’s owner, TransCanada, rebutting some of the arguments against the project and its new route.

Under ordinary circumstances, Kleeb and Goecke would be natural allies. Democrats in a red state, they both care about preserving Nebraska’s unique environment. Instead, they are divided over Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile steel pipeline that would carry heavy, low-quality crude from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas.

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.

The activist is running around and telling everyone that the KeystoneXL pipeline might permanently ruin the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides significant amounts of water to the northwest. The hydrologist is telling everyone that it’s much more complicated than that and that the risks are likely small:

All this offends Goecke, who even Stansbury calls “the number one expert” on the aquifer. Goecke says that many people have the wrong impression about the danger a pipeline leak would pose to the Ogallala. It’s not like dropping oil into a lake, he says; remember, the aquifer is more like a sponge.

He said people “were concerned that any spill would contaminate and ruin the water in the entire aquifer, and that’s just practically impossible.” To do that, the oil would essentially have to run uphill, he said. “The gradient of the groundwater is from west to east; 75 percent to 80 percent of the aquifer is west of the pipeline, and any contamination can’t move up gradient or up slope,” he said.

“Secondly,” Goecke added, “any leakage would be very localized. . . . A spill wouldn’t be nice, but it would certainly be restricted to within a half-mile of the pipeline.” He predicted that the varied layers of fine-grained seams of silt and clay would contain the flow of oil.

After TransCanada submitted a revised Keystone XL route that veered east of the Sand Hills, Goecke agreed to appear in a television ad for TransCanada.

“I’ve spent my career drilling holes to and through the Ogallala Formation. I’ve probably seen as much of the Ogallala as anybody,” he says on camera. “There’s a misconception that if the aquifer is contaminated, the entire water supply of Nebraska is going to be endangered, and that’s absolutely false. If people recognize the science of the situation, I think that should allay a lot of the fears.”

Kleeb sees the ad as a betrayal.

And the anti-pipeline activist views the expert opinion of a scientist as betrayal, because it doesn’t fit her preconceived narrative about the dangers of a pipeline.

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