Atlantic Coast Pipeline to Sideline 100 Miles of Construction in Virginia and West Virginia
Builders of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline told federal authorities they will delay construction along 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issues a revised "incidental take statement," which limits the number of threatened or endangered species that might be accidentally killed or harmed during development activities.
Lead developer Dominion Energy filed documents Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in response to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last week. The court sided with environmental groups and their lawyers that the FWS' initial review was not clear enough in the case of the $6.5 billion pipeline and vacated one of its key permits.
Environmentalists worry that the 600-mile fracked gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina could pose risks for a rare bumblebee, the Roanoke logperch and Indiana and Northern long-eared bats and other threatened or endangered species. It will also cut through through forests, pristine mountains and involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
In its letter to FERC, Dominion said construction will be avoided along those 100 miles in West Virginia and Virginia where protected species might be put at risk until the revised incidental take statement is issued.
Dominion did not disclose the specific areas it will avoid "because this information contains the locations of sensitive species which are customarily treated as privileged and confidential," the company stated in a news release quoted by The Exponent Telegram.
The Southern Environmental Law Center—which argued on behalf of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Virginia Wilderness Committee at the appeals court—believes all pipeline construction cannot continue without a valid permit.
"According to the Federal Regulatory Commission's own certificate, FERC's previous notices issued to Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers to proceed are no longer valid," said senior attorney D.J. Gerken in a statement. "If what FERC is now saying is that developers can proceed to construction without the Fish and Wildlife Service's valid permit, it is undermining its own requirements."
SELC recently sent a letter to FERC outlining the impact of an invalid permit on pipeline construction and requests it fulfill its obligations to stop further construction until its resolved.
However, backers of the pipeline insist that construction will move forward as planned. "We will continue to move forward with construction as scheduled and fully comply as required with all permits and agency requirements. We remain committed to taking all reasonable measures to protect the environment and the species while ensuring progress on a project that is essential to the economic and environmental well-being of the region," Dominion stated.
As The Exponent Telegram noted, Dominion contends that the appellate court's May 15 ruling only impacts construction in areas where at-risk species and their habitats may be present. Furthermore, the company believes the incidental take statement invalidated by the court does not impact the pipeline route or other required permits.
"It simply removes the shield that protects against an otherwise unlawful take, and for that reason, we will avoid any activities in any areas identified by (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that would be likely to adversely affect any of the listed species," Dominion said in the news release.
FERC will determine the next steps once the Atlantic Coast Pipeline documents are officially entered into the record, commission spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen told The Exponent Telegram.
The Southern Environmental Law Center's requests to halt all construction on the pipeline "are under consideration," Young-Allen said.
In the meantime, Young-Allen noted, all previously issued notices to proceed are in effect, with the exception of the areas with threatened or endangered species habitat that the pipeline builders agreed to avoid.
Nonetheless, grassroots resistance against pipelines is growing. Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline launched the ninth aerial blockade this week to stop progress of the proposed natural gas pipeline running from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.
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.
"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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