© David ClowFarms across the Great Plains are in the path of a monster: the Keystone XL pipeline.
Old farmFarms across the Great Plains are in the path of a monster: the Keystone XL pipeline.Photo: David ClowThe other morning I took a call, like so many other calls I've taken over the last four years, from another Dakota farmer wondering how his land may be affected by the Keystone XL pipeline
. He had a notice of condemnation and interrogatories from TransCanada in hand, and I wish I'd had better news for him. He's in the path of a monster. Keystone XL will be a 36-inch-diameter pipeline, carrying nine times the volume of the Silvertip line
that just vomited 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River. It will cross some of the most isolated places in the high plains, cutting through the ecologically fragile Nebraska Sandhills
and the irreplaceable Ogallala aquifer
Keystone XL won't carry "light, sweet" crude, which floats on top of water and can be mopped up with absorbent booms. Bitumen - a tarlike substance mined from the Alberta tar sands, chemically diluted, and heated to improve flow - will travel at high pressure across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to Gulf Coast refineries. If and when it leaks into water bodies, this product will sink. To judge the risk of that happening, it helps to know that the first piece of the Keystone system, TransCanada's Keystone I pipeline that crosses the eastern Dakotas, has sprung a dozen leaks
in its first year of operation.