EPA Funds for Fracking Impact Study Rejected by North Carolina Officials
North Carolina’s mining and energy commissioners are in the midst of a fracking battle—and they’re winning. They’re arguing that the state’s regulations for clean water protection are over-the-top and unnecessary, all while corralling anti-fracking advocates into the same category as Bigfoot believers.
“We all know this,” commissioner George Howard said, referring to his belief that there is a lack of proof connecting groundwater contamination with fracking. “A lot of this stuff is like Bigfoot regulation—he doesn’t exist.”
Commissioners are going so far as to recommend a rollback of what are now considered the strictest protections in the nation, to the dismay of landowners living near and above natural gas reserves. As it stands, operators have to test local wells before fracking begins, in order to provide a “before” sample.
The arguments come at a time when the nation is split on the issue, with studies indicating a link exists between fracking and groundwater contamination. Incomplete government studies have yet to issue any conclusion, yet those responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry are using a lack of information as justification that fracking poses no threat to anyone, anywhere.
The pro-industry rhetoric in North Carolina comes on the heels of Gov. McCrory’s (R-NC) decision to reject the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants that would have funded water quality studies in some of the state’s most vulnerable wetland areas.
The justification? The fracking boom isn’t enough of an issue in North Carolina to warrant such environmental studies. According to the most recent commissioners debate, however, fracking is enough of an issue to consider changes to its regulations in favor of industry.
The commissioners’ sentiment is based on the argument that water contamination related to fracking operations allegedly doesn’t exist.
“What we’re doing is trying to inoculate the population against a disease that doesn’t exist,” commissioner Charles Holbrook told the Charlotte Observer. “The science does not support even the possibility that hydraulic fracturing fluid can migrate that far out from the well—it can’t happen.”
While the commissioners’ stances are up for debate, it’s clear they’re promoting a pro-industry narrative. In August, the commissioners backed legislation that would give oil and gas companies the right to drill on private lands, regardless of homeowners’ wishes. The justification rests in the argument that homeowners would get paid—but payment isn’t everything to everyone.
“They could potentially be pooled against their will in certain rare circumstances,” Commissioner Jim Womack told the Associated Press, adding that the scenario is fair.
But still, according to the governor, the industry isn’t prevalent enough to accept EPA funds for testing.
A Battle of Information
Holbrook is correct on the argument that government-supported studies have not yet proven groundwater contamination, as the EPA recently pushed back its deadline for its study release from 2014 to 2016. The study, which began in 2010 under the direction of Congress, was specifically tailored to assess whether or not groundwater supplies—and the surrounding air—are contaminated by the fracking process.
A preliminary report released by the U.S. government this year indicated there was, at the time of its release, no link yet discovered between fracking and drinking water contamination in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation. While the study was immediately picked up by industry and touted as undeniable proof that fracking poses no threat to water supplies, the agency that conducted the study was quick to put that notion to rest.
Following the release of a prominent Associated Press article highlighting the preliminary report’s supposed findings, the National Energy and Technology Laboratory, the body that conducted the study, released a statement clarifying its research:
NETL has been conducting a study to monitor for any signs of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations at a site on the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims. We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year.
Under that premise, it seems too soon for Holbrook and his colleagues to claim studies have yielded no link—more accurate would be to say that incomplete studies have failed to provide the full picture.
But then there are other studies, conducted independent of the government.
Duke University conducted a report in June indicating homeowners living near fracking operations were at risk for drinking water contamination, largely due to leaked gasses.
Using 141 drinking water samples taken from residential wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, researchers found that, on average, “methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well,” according to a press release issued by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
The study also indicated propane levels were detected in at least 10 samples, all from private wells located within a kilometer of fracking operations.
“Our studies demonstrate that the integrity of gas wells, as well as variations in local and regional geology, play major roles in determining the possible risk of groundwater impacts from shale gas development,” Avner Vengosh, a geochemistry professor at Duke, said. “As such, they must be taken into consideration before drilling begins.”
Even under arguments that existing studies do not prove a direct and positive correlation between fracking operations and water contamination, there is little room to argue that any studies proving otherwise exist, either.
The question for North Carolina commissioners, then, is why they are so sure—sure enough to turn down the EPA funds that would assure state residents that they aren’t at risk.
Why Deny the Grants?
The funds the state turned away were initially requested by the North Carolina Wetlands Programs Development Unit, which was dismantled by McCrory when he took office.
The wetlands unit was part of the Division of Water Resources, which has come out in support of the government’s denial of EPA funds. In all, $600,000 worth of federal grants were awarded to the Division of Water Resources to conduct studies on the potential impact fracking has in wetland areas. According to the Daily Tar Heel, nearly $223,000 of those funds were devoted to testing impact of streams and wetlands where fracking is most likely to take place.
According to Tom Reeder, the director of the Division of Water Resources, the grants were turned down because they were not necessary, as the state does not have any current fracking operations near wetland areas.
“I find when you get in these types of discussions when there’s a lot of accusations being made, it’s good to inject a little reality into the discussion now and again,” Reeder told the Mining and Energy Commission, according to the Daily Tar Heel.
Rejecting the EPA grants, however, wasn’t the only option Reeder had if his organization wasn’t interested in carrying out the studies at this time. As noted by George Matthis, a former Department of Natural Resources employee, grants from the EPA can be extended in order to fit a department’s needs.
Commissioners agreed, referring to the grants and the studies as not having “sufficient value,” although at this point there was no denying that fracking near wetlands in the state will eventually occur.
It’s true that North Carolina hasn’t exactly been the hub of the fracking industry, but it appears as though this will change.
According to News Observer writer Daniel L. Fine, the reason North Carolina has been off-limits is because of its strict rules that have scared the industry away.
“The answer is political,” Fine writes. “North Carolina has been in self-imposed isolation from the industry that invests and operates oil and gas exploration. Until now, it has not been worth the airfare for a company to send an exploration geologist from Denver to Raleigh. North Carolina law has prohibited hydraulic fracturing. New state leadership is prepared to change this and create the necessary government authority and institutions to issue permits, regulate and manage the economic benefits for people of North Carolina.”
It seems the government is nearly there.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen
A Cute But Threatened Species<p><a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-pangolin" target="_blank">Pangolins</a> are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, which they use to protect themselves from predators. They can also curl up into a tight ball.</p><p>They eat mainly ants, termites and larvae which they pick up with their sticky tongue. They can grow up to 1m in length from nose to tail and are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128155073000332" title="Chapter 33 - Conservation strategies and priority actions for pangolins" target="_blank">all eight</a> pangolin species are classified as "<a href="https://www.pangolins.org/tag/endangered-species/" target="_blank">threatened</a>" under International Union for Conservation of Nature <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=pangolin&searchType=species" target="_blank">criteria</a>.</p><p>There is an unprecedented demand for their scales, primarily from countries in Asia and <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12389" title="Assessing Africa‐Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data" target="_blank">Africa</a> where they are used in food, cultural remedies and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/141072b0" title="Chinese Medicine and the Pangolin" target="_blank">medicine</a>.</p><p>Between 2017 and 2019, seizures of pangolin scales <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/pangolin-scale-trade-shipments-growing/" target="_blank">tripled in volume</a>. In 2019 alone, 97 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to about 150,000 animals, were <a href="https://oxpeckers.org/2020/03/nigeria-steps-up-for-pangolins/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> intercepted leaving Africa.</p>
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species<p>Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (<a href="https://africanpangolin.org/" target="_blank">APWG</a>) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.</p><p>These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the <a href="http://www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com/our-hospital" target="_blank">Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital</a> for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.</p><p>In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's <a href="https://www.andbeyond.com/destinations/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/" target="_blank">Phinda Private Game Reserve</a> in the KwaZulu Natal Province.</p><p>Nine months on, five have survived. This reintroduction is a world first for a region that last saw a viable population of this species in the 1980s.</p><p>During the release, every individual pangolin followed a strict regime. They needed to become familiar with their new surroundings and be able to forage efficiently.</p>
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild<p>The process on Phinda game reserve involved a more gentle ease into re-wilding a population in a region that had not seen pangolins for many decades.</p><p>The soft release had two phases:</p><ol><li>a pre-release observational period</li><li>an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.</li></ol>
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important<p>We know so little about this group of mammals that are vastly understudied and hold many secrets yet to be discovered by science but are on the verge of collapse.</p><p>The South African and Phinda story is one of hope for the Temminck's pangolin where they once again roam the savanna hills and plains of Zululand.</p><p>The process of relocating these trade animals back into the wild has taken many turns, failures and tribulations but, the recipe of the "soft release" is working.</p>
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By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
Why You Should Wash Fresh Produce<p>Global pandemic or not, properly washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a good habit to practice to minimize the ingestion of potentially harmful residues and germs.</p><p>Fresh produce is handled by numerous people before you purchase it from the grocery store or the farmers market. It's best to assume that not every hand that has touched fresh produce has been clean.</p><p>With all of the people constantly bustling through these environments, it's also safe to assume that much of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fresh-vs-frozen-fruit-and-vegetables" target="_blank">fresh produce</a> you purchase has been coughed on, sneezed on, and breathed on as well.</p><p>Adequately washing fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them can significantly reduce residues that may be left on them during their journey to your kitchen.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a proven way to remove germs and unwanted residues from their surfaces before eating them.</p>
Best Produce Cleaning Methods<p>While rinsing fresh produce with water has long been the traditional method of preparing fruits and veggies before consumption, the current pandemic has many people wondering whether that's enough to really clean them.</p><p>Some people have advocated the use of soap, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/white-vinegar" target="_blank">vinegar</a>, lemon juice, or even commercial cleaners like bleach as an added measure.</p><p>However, health and food safety experts, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strongly urge consumers not to take this advice and stick with plain water.</p><p>Using such substances may pose further health dangers, and they're unnecessary to remove the most harmful residues from produce. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chlorine-poisoning" target="_blank">Ingesting commercial cleaning chemicals</a> like bleach can be lethal and should never be used to clean food.</p><p>Furthermore, substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and produce washes have not been shown to be any more effective at cleaning produce than plain water — and may even leave additional deposits on food.</p><p>While some research has suggested that using neutral electrolyzed water or a baking soda bath can be even more effective at removing certain substances, the consensus continues to be that cool tap water is sufficient in most cases.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The best way to wash fresh produce before eating it is with cool water. Using other substances is largely unnecessary. Plus they're often not as effective as water and gentle friction. Commercial cleaners should never be used on food.</p>
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables With Water<p>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cool water before eating them is a good practice when it comes to health hygiene and food safety.</p><p>Note that fresh produce should not be washed until right before you're ready to eat it. Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them may create an environment in which bacterial growth is more likely.</p><p>Before you begin washing fresh produce, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-you-wash-your-hands" target="_blank">wash your hands well</a> with soap and water. Be sure that any utensils, sinks, and surfaces you're using to prepare your produce are also thoroughly cleaned first.</p><p>Begin by cutting away any bruised or visibly rotten areas of fresh produce. If you're handling a fruit or vegetable that'll be peeled, such as an orange, wash it before peeling it to prevent any surface bacteria from entering the flesh.</p><p>The general methods to wash produce are as follows:</p><ul><li><strong>Firm produce.</strong> Fruits with firmer skins like apples, lemons, and pears, as well as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/root-vegetables" target="_blank">root vegetables</a> like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, can benefit from being brushed with a clean, soft bristle to better remove residues from their pores.</li><li><strong>Leafy greens.</strong> Spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, leeks, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choy should have their outermost layer removed, then be submerged in a bowl of cool water, swished, drained, and rinsed with fresh water.</li><li><strong>Delicate produce.</strong> Berries, mushrooms, and other types of produce that are more likely to fall apart can be cleaned with a steady stream of water and gentle friction using your fingers to remove grit.</li></ul><p>Once you have thoroughly rinsed your produce, dry it using a clean paper or cloth towel. More fragile produce can be laid out on the towel and gently patted or rolled around to dry them without damaging them.</p><p>Before consuming your fruits and veggies, follow the simple steps above to minimize the amount of germs and substances that may be on them.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Most fresh fruits and veggies can gently be scrubbed under cold running water (using a clean soft brush for those with firmer skins) and then dried. It can help to soak, drain, and rinse produce that has more dirt-trapping layers.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Practicing good food hygiene is an important health habit. Washing fresh produce helps minimize surface germs and residues that could make you sick.</p><p>Recent fears during the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/coronavirus" target="_blank">COVID-19 pandemic</a> have caused many people to wonder whether more aggressive washing methods, such as using soap or commercial cleaners on fresh produce, are better.</p><p>Health professionals agree that this isn't recommended or necessary — and could even be dangerous. Most fruits and vegetables can be sufficiently cleaned with cool water and light friction right before eating them.</p><p>Produce that has more layers and surface area can be more thoroughly washed by swishing it in a bowl of cool water to remove dirt particles.</p><p>Fresh fruits and vegetables offer a number of healthy nutrients and should continue to be eaten, as long as safe cleaning methods are practiced.</p>
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Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
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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>