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Army Corps OKs Access to Alaskan Oil Reserve

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Army Corps OKs Access to Alaskan Oil Reserve

Conoco Phillips was issued a key federal permit (under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dec. 19 to begin work on the first-ever commercial oil well in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).

According to an Army Corps press release about the project, the modified wetlands-fill permit authorizes construction of a drill pad, six-mile long access road, four bridge crossings, two valve pads with access roads and new pipeline support structures connecting its CD-5 project with the Alpine oil field on state land just east of the petroleum reserve. It also includes 22 conditions intended to minimize the impact on the environment within the Arctic Coastal Plain. In addition, Conoco Phillips agreed to pay mitigation fees to the Conservation Fund to compensate for unavoidable losses to aquatic resources.

Here's the Corps' fact sheet about the permit.

Initially, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service objected to a bridge and a pipeline that the energy giant has wanted to build over the Colville River to reach its leases in the 23-million-acre North Slope reserve. The decision by the Alaskan District of the Corps comes two weeks after these agencies removed their objection.


The petroleum reserve on the North Slope was originally created by President Warren Harding in 1923 and covers 23 million acres—an area slightly smaller than the state of Indiana. As of July, the reserve had 310 authorized oil and gas leases totaling more than three million acres. A federal lease sale Dec. 7 took high bids of $3 million for 141,739 more acres. This project is expected to be the first in a chain of small oil fields in the NPR-A that would feed into the Conoco Phillips-operated Alpine field on state land.

In October 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated there were nearly 900 million barrels of oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas within NPR-A and adjacent state waters. The oil estimate was about 90 percent less than what USGS had projected in 2002.

Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage, however, called it "another big gift to the oil companies" from President Obama's administration. "After initially finding that a bridge across the Colville River would not be the least environmentally damaging way for Conoco Phillips to access new oil fields in the NPRA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has flip-flopped," she said in an email to the Associated Press. "The Conoco Phillips bridge will go up in the heart of a rich ecosystem that harbors a wide variety of plants, fish, birds and mammals, including threatened polar bears and Steller's and spectacled eiders."
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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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