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Fracking Chemicals Used in Texas Kept Secret 19,000 Times in First Eight Months of this Year

Energy
Fracking Chemicals Used in Texas Kept Secret 19,000 Times in First Eight Months of this Year

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Matthew McFeeley

Fracking on public lands in Wyoming. Photo credit Linda F. Baker, Upper Green River Alliance

The evidence keeps piling up regarding the inadequacy of state fracking disclosure laws when it comes to ensuring transparency. A recent article from Bloomberg News finds that in many states with regulations requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals, companies can evade the requirement for transparency by unilaterally declaring that a chemical is a proprietary “trade secret.” 

In Texas companies claimed that chemicals used in fracking were a secret 19,000 times—and that was just in the first eight months of the year. On average, five chemical ingredients were withheld in each well. The Bloomberg article also notes that companies didn’t provide the required information for about another 5,000 chemicals—in these cases it’s not even clear whether companies claimed the ingredients were secret, or if they just couldn’t be bothered to comply with the law. 

Disclosure rules only serve their purpose if they are vigorously enforced and there are strong controls on what can be kept secret. Community members and those with water wells near fracking have a right to know what chemicals are being used and to test for these chemicals both before and after fracking occurs. But most states allow companies free reign to decide that a chemical is secret. An NRDC analysis released in July found that only two states out of 29 with fracking, require that companies provide factual justification to claim that a chemical is a trade secret. And many state regulatory agencies do not have the resources to ensure that the industry is following the rules on the books.

With states unable or unwilling to ensure transparency, there is a clear role for federal disclosure rules. As we’ve blogged about before, the current proposal by the Bureau of Land Management would require some disclosure of chemicals for fracking that takes place on federal, Indian and private lands where there are federal oil and gas leases. But the proposed rule is not strong enough.  EcoWatch has a new online petition up, asking the BLM to strengthen the current proposal and to eliminate the exemptions for trade secrets.

Add your voice to this petition to ensure that the public gets the full story about the chemicals being used by the fracking industry.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

 

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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