Colorado Conservation Groups Call Out Gov. Hickenlooper for Misleading Oil & Gas Ads
On Feb. 27, 13 conservation groups delivered a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) expressing dismay over his claim in an oil and gas industry radio ad that "we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing" since the overhaul of the state's oil and gas protections in 2008. In fact, there have been dozens of cases of groundwater contamination from oil and gas activity since 2008. The ad is sponsored by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry's main trade group.
"We are disappointed that the Governor lent his voice to a trade association advertisement that fails to tell the full story and leaves Coloradans with a false sense of security when it comes to groundwater contamination," said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. "The unmistakable takeaway message from the ad is 'don't worry, everything is ok' when it comes to water and oil and gas exploration. That is not the case. There are numerous documented cases of groundwater contamination since 2008. We should all be able to agree that there is more to be done to protect our air, land, and water from drilling."
Since 2008, numerous instances of groundwater contamination have resulted from releases of chemicals such as petroleum liquids and produced water used and generated during drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Accidental spills, corroded tanks and pipelines, and leaking containment pits have been implicated in numerous releases of toxic fluids, including carcinogenic hydrocarbons such as benzene. The Colorado oil and gas commission's own report, issued earlier this month, makes clear that contamination of groundwater remains an ongoing issue with oil and gas development. Similarly, a Denver Post analysis of state records for 2011 found 58 cases of groundwater pollution linked to spills and releases. Another Denver Post analysis of spill accidents dating backing to 2008 found an even greater number of groundwater incidents.
"Gov. Hickenlooper did the right thing last fall in leading the effort to bring transparency to industry's use of fracking chemicals," said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters. "He understood that full disclosure will allow us to make smart decisions about how to protect our world class environment when oil and gas drilling occurs. Given his support of transparency and full disclosure, it was particularly dismaying to hear such a misleading ad on the air. The good news is that the governor is a 'fix-it' leader. We urge him to get the misleading ad withdrawn and to redouble his commitment to protecting Colorado's water resources and communities."
“It’s simply inaccurate to state that oil and gas drilling isn’t contaminating ground water in Colorado," said Mike Freeman, staff attorney at Earthjustice. "The state’s own records show that spills and releases routinely affect ground water. Statements like those in the COGA ad will only hurt the state's efforts to show it is responsive to legitimate concerns about and gas development in Colorado communities.”
For the full letter to Gov. Hickenlooper, see below.
For more information, click here.
Dear Gov. Hickenlooper,
Your administration played a critical role last year in creating one of the nation's strongest fracking disclosure rules. It was your goal of keeping Colorado citizens informed about fracking and your leadership in overseeing negotiations that got us across the finish line, delivering a big win for citizens and communities that have demanded the right to know what fracking chemicals are going into the ground.
That's why we were so surprised and disappointed to hear your recent radio ad on behalf of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. The ad rightly recognizes Colorado's success in adopting protective rules in 2008 and 2011, but it creates a misleading picture about the overall safety of oil and gas development. Specifically, the ad claims that since 2008, "we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing."
That assertion misleads the public by ignoring the high incidence of groundwater contamination from spills and releases of toxic chemicals at or near drilling sites. Since 2008, numerous instances of groundwater contamination have resulted from releases of chemicals such as petroleum liquids and produced water used and generated during drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Accidental spills, corroded tanks and pipelines, and leaking containment pits have been implicated in numerous releases of toxic fluids, including carcinogenic hydrocarbons such as benzene. The Colorado oil and gas commission's October 2011 "Spills and Releases" report and its 2011 report to CDPHE, issued earlier this month, make clear that contamination of groundwater remains an ongoing issue with oil and gas development. Similarly, a Denver Post analysis of state records for 2011 found 58 cases of groundwater pollution linked to spills and releases. Another Denver Post analysis of accidental spills dating back to 2008 found an even larger number of groundwater incidents.
The COGA ad leaves Coloradans with an inaccurate picture of the consequences of oil and gas drilling operations. While citizens should know how much progress we have made in adopting health and safety protections, they should also feel confident that the state recognizes and is working to minimize the inevitable impacts of oil and gas development. A good first step toward building that confidence is to withdraw the COGA ad and to direct the oil and gas commission to adopt new and stronger protections for Colorado's water resources and communities, including increased mandatory setbacks of oil and gas wells from rivers and streams, and from homes. No doubt we can all agree that it's vital to give Colorado citizens both an accurate picture of oil and gas development and the confidence that we are all working aggressively to mitigate its impacts.
Clean Water Action
Checks and Balances
Colorado Conservation Voters
Colorado Environmental Coalition
High Country Citizens Alliance
National Wildlife Federation
Sierra Club, Roaring Fork Chapter
San Juan Citizens Alliance
Western Colorado Congress
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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