(Reuters) - Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday to reroute a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas so that it avoids crossing a major underground aquifer in his state.
In a letter to the State Department, Heineman said Clinton has the authority to change the route of the $7 billion Keystone pipeline if it is in the national interest.
The proposed route would cross the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground reservoir that touches eight states but is mostly under Nebraska. Critics say an oil leak could pollute the water supply of the Plains states.
"Rerouting the pipeline around the Ogallala Aquifer is in the national interest," Heineman said. "Therefore, I request that Secretary Clinton use her permitting authority to change the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline."
The pipeline proposed by TransCanada would extend more than 1,600 miles from Alberta to Texas, through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It is designed to carry crude oil from Canada's rich oil sands deposits to Texas Gulf Coast refineries and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East imports.
But critics say the risk of an oil spill that could pollute the aquifer is too great. Hundreds of people converged on a small town in Nebraska last week to protest the proposed pipeline at a U.S. government hearing.
Heineman also asked the State Department to clarify whether Nebraska has the authority to pass legislation to give the state the right to set the route of the pipeline.
Several lawmakers in Nebraska have said they want the state legislature to pass such legislation but it would require Heineman calling a special session of the state legislature.
The State Department, which concluded public hearings on the proposal on Friday, has the authority to approve or reject the proposal because the pipeline originates in a foreign country.
(Reporting and writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)