Nebraska Nurse Concerned About Health Impact of Keystone XL

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Cindy Myers

I am a Nebraska citizen from Holt County.  I have been speaking out against KXL since my first editorial in April 2009.  I drink water from the aquifer, 52 feet down, absolutely pure, no treatment or filtration needed.  The first route would have been 2 miles to the west of our private well and I was terrified.  I called the EPA and an environmental scientist told me he would be concerned also.  My concerns were confirmed when I heard Dr Goeke, a UNL water specialist (who now the pipeline proponents quote as having no concern to the water) testify at a NE legislative hearing Dec 1, 2010 that contaminants could migrate up to 2 miles in our groundwater!

There are 2,398 wells within one mile of the route in Nebraska!!!!  This is because we are so dependent on the aquifer.  I have been an RN for 34 years and my number one concern are the environmental toxins migrating into our aquifer.  In Holt County we have flowing wells and aquifer water saturates to just below the surface.  The pipe would have been immersed in aquifer waters throughout SW Holt County.  This was the first route which was only minimally moved after the special session compromise which was just to placate the people and expedite the process for TransCanada. The latest route still crosses the aquifer nearly the entire distance across our state.  For 16 miles of the latest route, the water table is less than 10 feet, pipe is 7 feet down.  So the route change has not helped, the pipe will either be in or within close proximity of our aquifer.

In my testimony in front of the Nebraska DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), December 2012 and a U.S. Department of State Hearing in Grand Island, Nebraraska April 2013, I requested that a health impact assessment be done.  I looked through the final EIS by the Department of State, and not one chapter devoted to health impacts! I think Climate Change is a most pressing concern in the big picture, but how can anybody refute that the most imminent threat is to the health and safety of people! The indigenous living adjacent to the Alberta tar sands mining are being poisoned by the leakage of the toxic tailing ponds into the Athabasca River watershed and we will only add to those suffering in the shadows of the gulf coast refineries, and I'm very concerned about the health and safety impact to people living along the 1700 miles in between!

Benzene is the most concerning of the chemicals involved, very carcinogenic and the maximum contamination goal is 0, but the EPA, has set the maximum contamination level for drinking water at 5 ppb, that is...any more than 5 parts of benzene in a billion parts of water makes that water undrinkable.  Brad Vann, EPA, told me that this is such a minute amount that you can't taste, see, or smell it.  The only way to know if it is in your water is by testing.

Mike Watson, a water treatment systems engineer for Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System in S.D. said current water treatment systems do not remove benzene.  There are many water intakes for public drinking water from the Missouri River, including  the Mni Waconi water line that supplies water for Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.(Mni Waconi is Lakota meaning "Water is Life").  According to Mike, the Department of State's EIS takes into consideration consequences of a spill only 10 miles downstream from the spill site.  He is not only concerned about spills into major rivers such as the Yellowstone and Missouri, but the numerous tributaries crossed by the KXL route that feed into these major rivers, which according to the EIS have only 1 in a thousand years chance of occurring, which is absolutely crazy thinking!  Mike suggested this be re-evaluated.

Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska water specialist did an independent, peer reviewed study "Analysis of Worst-Case Spills From the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline" which clearly describes the threat of benzene:  "Benzene released from a worst case spill into a major river could contaminate enough water to form a plume that could extend more than 450 miles at concentrations exceeding the Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Level.  Therefore serious impacts to drinking water intakes along the river would occur."  "In the Sandhills region, a plume of contaminants would pose serious health risks to people using that groundwater for drinking water and irrigation." 

Remember,  the first route did not get moved away from the aquifer or sandy soil in Nebraska. That was a trick used by the NDEQ (Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality) who used their own map that shrunk the Sandhills in order to accommodate TransCanada’s short cut across our state.

Also from Stansbury's study:  "Since Dilbit is very viscous, the bulk crude oil will not likely migrate through the soil to groundwater in large quantities.  However, if a small, underground leak remains undetected for an extended period of time, a large amount of benzene will be released with the Dilbit.  The released benzene could then be transported to groundwater via infiltrating rainwater." 

Rural towns and people with private wells especially aren’t equipped to test/treat for benzene in the water.  The Department of State’s IES indicates 1.5-2.0% of pipeline product could leak daily undetected.  The capacity of KXL is 830,000 barrels/day. What I fear the most are the expected, undetected leaks into our waters, and people drinking benzene unknowingly.

Cindy Myers