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An Inside Look at Democracy in Action to Ban Fracking in Fort Collins

Energy
An Inside Look at Democracy in Action to Ban Fracking in Fort Collins

Be the Change

By Phillip Doe

I drove to Fort Collins, Colorado last night to testify in favor of a proposed ban on fracking within that city’s boundaries. When I got there I discovered the Colorado Petroleum Association, the political arm of the industry, had already issued a press release stating the council had passed the ban.

Sure enough, the council, after hearing several hours of citizen testimony voted 5-2 in favor of the ban, causing one activist to mutter in amusement that you just can’t underestimate the power of the industry in this state.

Back in February, at the ban’s first reading, the industry pulled out all the stops. They even imported about 10 young women with fresh scrubbed babies to populate the audience. They all wore pink tee shirts with “Mothers In Love With Fracking” emblazoned on the back. They were nowhere to be seen this time around.

In fact, almost all the people in the packed council chamber spoke in favor of the ban—maybe 75 to 80 in all. Only five or six spoke against it. One was the industry’s lobbyist at the Capital, one hated Arabs, and one was Matt Lepore, the head of the state’s oil and gas commission. He pledged the state’s sincere desire to continue to work with the city. He did not dwell upon Governor Hickenlooper’s intemperate threat to sue the city on behalf of the industry if it dared pass a ban.

The testimony of the citizens was varied, of course. Many worried about their children, some worried about nature, some worried about water, some air, some the climate. One recited a commemorative haiku. One even penned a delightfully appropriate Dr. Seuss poem. In all, the confessions were sometimes labored, sometimes halting, but always sincere, humblingly so.

The council members voting for the ban referred in every instance to their first responsibilities to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. Mayor pro tem Kelly Ohlson went on to tell the Governor’s representative, Matt Lepore, that his agency had no credibility in his city, that it was the complete captive of the industry. He finished by saying that he would reserve his strongest criticism of the Governor until he could tell him directly.

In the end, the citizens left relieved to know that sometimes democracy still works in America, at least at the local level. Still, a friend of mine remarked as we exited the town hall, “it is sure a hell of a lot of work.” I think that’s what Ben Franklin knew when he warned of the difficulty in keeping a democracy, but on this particular evening most of those people testifying seemed to think it could still be made to work. Fewer might have known of the effort it had taken.   

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

 

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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