The 20,000 miles of pipes that carry oil and gas across Nebraska’s open prairies don’t bother Randy Thompson at all. Neither do greenhouse gas emissions or oil geopolitics.
Yet the 63-year-old, Republican-voting rancher and other Nebraska landowners have begun to kick up a lot of dust over the Keystone XL, a 1,711-mile pipeline that, if built, will cut across Nebraska’s heartland as it funnels oil from the Athabasca sands of Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries. They worry that the project, on which Calgary-based TransCanada has staked much of its future, might damage the Sand Hills region, a huge wetland where an aquifer often runs just a few feet below the surface. The water in the Sand Hills is essential to many ranches and farms, and Thompson says the Keystone XL could do severe damage to this ecosystem. “You’re talking about potentially ruining people’s lives,” he says.