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Toxic Tar Sands: Kansas

Harry Bennett
Marion County, Kansas

Harry Bennett, photographed by Sam Stika.

Harry Bennett will tell you he is no hydrologist, but he knows what's at stake when it comes to water quality in his Kansas town. A 32-year resident of Marion County in Kansas, Bennett is a grain marketer for the Organic Grain Producers Association, representing hundreds of farmers in several states. He is also the owner of a small family farm crisscrossed by the Spring Branch Creek and riparian wetlands bordered by TransCanada's Keystone Cushing extension, which will soon funnel dirty tar sands crude to Oklahoma.

"A leak would take seconds to poison the land I've lived off for thirty-two years."
Bennett farms his land organically, raises black walnut trees, and diligently maintains the riparian wetlands along his section of creek. He believes the preservation of this wetland habitat protects his farm from powerful creek floods, and helps purify the groundwater his family and farm survive on. They draw all water for household use, livestock, and crop irrigation from two wells on their property. The wells are their only source of fresh water.

But now Bennett is worried about his family's water. TransCanada's pipeline directly threatens his wells and wetlands with contamination from tar sands crude.

This summer, Bennett regularly walked to the 20-foot hole where huge bulldozers bored a deep passage for the pipeline under the railroad that forms his western property boundary. Over a period of many weeks, he observed a crew pumping out what he thought was rainwater from the construction pits, but his visits to the site revealed the holes would refill every evening with the same clear blue water that fills his wells.

Bennett now believes the pipeline lies directly in the groundwater he relies on for his farm. But because the pipeline does not physically cross his land, Mr. Bennett had no say in its construction. When Spring Branch Creek flooded in June, it washed out a construction bridge, gouged deep erosion in the banks, and sent pipeline construction debris washing up into the woods on his property.

"They do it the cheapest way they can with very little thought to ramifications downstream," Bennett says.

The Enbridge Michigan spill in July gushed one million gallons of toxic crude into the Kalamazoo River before any leak was detected, and Bennett knows he now faces similar threats from the Keystone pipeline. The pipeline is in direct contact with the water table his family and his community rely on. Any leak or rupture of the pipeline would immediately contaminate their only clean water source.

"This pipeline is a ticking time bomb," Bennett says. "A leak would take seconds to poison the land I've lived off for thirty-two years."

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