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Toxic Tar Sands: Nebraska

Ben Gotschall
Atkinson, Nebraska

Ben Gotschall feels a deep, physical sense of connection to his family's ranch near Atkinson, Nebraska. He became involved in the fight to save the place he loves in April, when he heard of public hearings for a tar sands pipeline coming through Atkinson.

When he went to the hearing, he saw the pipeline would cross Holt Creek just a few miles from where it flows through the middle of the Gotschall ranch, and lie directly in the sensitive sand hills and the precious Ogallala Aquifer. Now his greatest fear is that his family's creek and the Ogallala aquifer that supplies Nebraska with nearly all of its water will be threatened from toxic pipeline leaks like the Kalamazoo River oil spill in July.

His is the fourth generation to work and live on his family's land. Today, the Gotschalls raise organic, grass-fed beef and dairy cows on their ranch nestled along the banks of Holt Creek in the scenic Sand Hills of Nebraska.

"This pipeline goes against the whole foundation of organic farming."
The 30-year-old rancher has become an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Gotschall is motivated by his strong sense of place. He loves Nebraska and the rolling hills where he grew up. Because his family does not own land directly on the Keystone XL route, they have no legal recourse to protect their fragile aquifer and creek from the pipeline's permanent threat.

Gotschall knows organic farmers must pay particular attention to soil and water quality, and Nebraska's crystal aquifers and unspoiled grassland are vital to his way of life. "This pipeline goes against the whole foundation of organic farming," he explains. "All we have out there is grass and water. That's how we make our living."

What most upsets Gotschall is that farming livelihoods in Nebraska are being threatened just so a foreign oil company can make more money. Instead of building more pipelines, Gotschall would like to see Nebraska's wind energy harnessed. Nebraska has the sixth highest wind energy potential in the country, and presents a significant opportunity for good Nebraska jobs.

"We need to do things that put money in Nebraskan pockets, not foreign corporate pockets," he says.

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