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Fracking California Threatens Water Supplies

Energy
Fracking California Threatens Water Supplies

A major new report released Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights hydraulic fracturing's threat to California's water supplies. All six factors identified in the EPA report as increasing the risk of fracking-related water pollution apply in California.

"This report shows that Californians are right to be deeply concerned about fracking pollution's threats to our water," said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA identified six risk factors that increase the risk of water contamination and every single one applies in our state. The best way to protect our water from fracking chemicals is to ban this toxic technique."

Oil companies in California frack at shallow depths, very close to groundwater. They also employ fracking fluid with unusually high concentrations of chemicals. The oil industry in the state has been allowed to dispose of vast quantities of oil wastewater into unlined pits that threaten groundwater.

"Percolation pits, in particular, were commonly reported to have been used to manage produced water from stimulated wells in Kern County, California, between 2011 and 2014," the EPA report states. The document also highlights the risks of spills of oil industry wastewater, noting that over a recent five-year period "18 percent of the spills impacted waterways."

The EPA found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. The report identifies certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe.

EPA's six identified factors for increased risk of water pollution, listed below, all occur in California, making fracking in the state particularly dangerous:

Risk factor 1: Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources.

California is experiencing a historic drought. A 2014 report by Ceres noted that 98 percent of fracking occurs in areas of the state experiencing high or extreme water stress.

Risk factor 2: Spills during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources.

Oil companies in California use well-stimulation fluid with a higher concentration of chemicals, according to 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology.

Risk factor 3: Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources.

California's long history of oil production makes it more prone to fluid migration through older wells. The state also has many wells in close proximity to one another (high density) and unmapped wells, which increase this risk even further.

Risk factor 4: Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources.

Groundwater tables and injection zones in California are close together, according to the California Council on Science and Technology, increasing the likelihood that fracking fluid may directly reach a source of groundwater.

Risk factor 5: Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water.

The Cawelo Water District in California's Kern County has been processing water from oil fields in which fracking has occurred and using it for irrigation. Records show that statewide, millions of gallons of wastewater are later discharged to irrigation canals for agricultural use. Wastewater is also sometimes discharged into surface water.

Risk factor 6: Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

California continues to allow the oil industry to use unlined pits for oil wastewater storage and disposal. A survey by the State Water Resources Control Board and regional water boards found hundreds of active unlined pits in the state. While oil officials recently implemented a regulation against discharging flowback fluid from fracked wells into such pits, the state does a poor job of tracking wastewater and existing pits likely have vast quantities of fracking flowback fluid.

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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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