02/28/2012 03:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Keystone XL Pipeline and the Sandhills of Nebraska


Photo by Michael Forsberg

I know these Hills. I have moved among the people of the Sandhills for over 50 years, covered thousands of miles on back roads no more than sand ruts, investigated towns, traveled with ranchers into back country, and written a book about this fragile ecosystem, which was published by St. Martin's Press (Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills, 1996).

I can tell you one simple fact. These hills are made of sand; they are porous. Whatever you pour onto them moves quickly through the sand and into the water table. That water table is the Ogallala Aquifer, a huge lake of water embedded in sediments below the Hills, ancient water, pure water, water that fuels all aspects of life in seven states, water that attracts and sustains birds and waterfowl from all along the Central Flyway, and water that drives the cattle industry of the third largest beef producing state in the United States.

The Sandhills are almost 20,000 square miles of unbroken prairie, treeless, elegant, pocked with hundreds of transient lakes, thanks to the remarkably high water table. The Ogallala Aquifer. These hills are a treasure as great as Yellowstone.

And I know these hills, and the people of the Hills, and to have a foreign corporation (TransCanada) tell them that they are going to take their land and run a pipeline filled with Tar Sands oil across it to refineries on the Gulf coast, a pipeline that will inevitably leak oil onto the porous Sandhills, so that that oil can be shipped overseas is simply unacceptable. It goes against everything Nebraskans know to be true: you don't take the land of U.S. citizens for the profit of a foreign corporation, and you don't mess with the Ogallala Aquifer.