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Fracking Chemicals Found in Drinking Water, New Study Says

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Fracking Chemicals Found in Drinking Water, New Study Says

If you ask communities on the frontline of the fracking industry in the U.S. what their greatest concern is about the controversial technology, often the reply is the threat to their drinking water.

The fracking industry replies in the way it always does to these concerns: it downplays the risks with an arrogance that verges on indifference.

The standard reply from the industry is that fracking cannot contaminate water as the fracking rocks are normally thousands of feet below drinking aquifers and that there are layers of impermeable rock between the two. Never the twain shall meet.

But slowly and consistently over the last few years the evidence of water contamination has accumulated as the science has slowly and steadily caught up with the technology. And now scientists have published more compelling evidence of harm.

Yesterday a new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which analyzed drinking water taken from three homes in the heart of the shale fields in Pennsylvania.

And they found what the industry’s critics will argue is damning evidence: traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids.

The scientists believe they have answered one of the outstanding issues surrounding fracking and water pollution, by outlining a series of events by which the fracking chemicals could have contaminated the water.

In 2012, the scientists collected drinking water samples from the households and subsequent analysis in one of the samples found 2-Butoxyethanol or 2BE, a common drilling chemical which is also a potential carcinogen.

And they believe they know how this chemical has ended up in the drinking water. “This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well,” Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors and a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University told the New York Times.

Brantley added that: “These findings are important because we show that chemicals traveled from shale gas wells more than 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) in the subsurface to drinking water wells.”

The scientists believe that the pollution may come from a lack of integrity in the well which passes through the drinking aquifer and not the actual fracking process below.

If this is the case, it reinforces the concerns of communities from the U.S. to the UK that the fracking industry often has to drill through drinking aquifers to reach the shale oil or gas.

And many people believe that the issue of well integrity could be the fracking industry’s Achilles heel.

The wells in this case were drilled in 2009, with a protective casing of steel and cement down to 1,000 feet, but below that the wells had no protective casing.

Two years later three homeowners in Bradford County sued the drilling company, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, due to pollution of their drinking well water.

The case was settled the following year, leading to the state Environmental Protection Agency recommending that the drilling company extend the depth of protective casings.

As other countries look to expand their fracking industries across the globe, so the risk to drinking water increases.

The paper concludes that “As shale gas development expands worldwide, problems such as those that occurred in northeastern Pennsylvania will only be avoided by using conservative well construction practices."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

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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