Have you ever wondered why, when they discover a new oil or gas field, they call it a “play”? Could it be that oil and gas corporations are playing with your family’s health, playing with your home’s value and playing with our state’s economic future?
The new Niobrara energy play in shale oil and shale gas along the Front Range of Colorado—with 10,000 new leases and counting—brings with it enormous problems, risks and health concerns. Let’s look at some facts.
• Water: Thousands of spills, and releases of drilling and fracking chemicals, have occurred in drilled and fracked areas of the state, many affecting groundwater and some affecting surface water. Aquifer contamination has occurred. Wells have been poisoned. Water supplies are being stretched even thinner as rivers and farms are poised to be drained for drilling and fracking.
• Air: Two scientific studies—one by the University of Colorado and another by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—have found serious problems with air quality in heavily drilled and fracked areas of the state. Headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and asthma attacks are the most common complaints as methane, ozone and other cancer-causing chemicals blow into nearby homes and communities.
• Property values: Residents across the state who have wells and drilling permits within a few hundred feet of their homes report difficulties selling their homes, negative impacts on their property values, difficulties buying homeowners’ insurance and more heavily scrutinized mortgages and home equity loans.
• Wildlife: All across the state in drilled and fracked areas, wildlife—including elk, mule deer, antelope and sage grouse—have been affected. Drilling and fracking may cause the greater sage grouse to be listed as an endangered species, and are increasingly affecting Colorado’s hunting and recreational economy.
Some elected officials—including Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Jared Polis (D-CO), and several state legislators—recently tried to address these negative impacts by introducing bills to protect the public’s health, property and the environment from drilling and fracking. But so far, those bills have gotten nowhere. Why? A look at a recent vote in the U.S. Senate tells the whole story.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Senate tried to cut billions of dollars in government subsidies given to Big Oil corporations, but that effort failed by a few votes. Why? It turns out that the very same U.S. senators who voted to support those subsidies had taken more than $16 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil companies in the last 13 years.
This buying and selling of elected officials and our democracy occurs in state government too. A few years ago, former Gov. Bill Ritter tried to cut state subsidies given to oil and gas corporations, and use the money to fund higher education, address the negative impacts of drilling and increase investments in clean energy.
What happened? Instantly, oil and gas corporations spent $10 million on TV ads to kill the effort. In addition, our current governor’s campaign has been a big recipient of oil and gas cash, as have those of many state legislators, and current and former candidates and Congress members.
Poisoned water, polluted air, decreasing home values, decreasing hunting and recreational opportunities, and increasingly toxic landscapes. Did I leave out something?
Oh yeah—$4/gallon gas prices charged at the pump by Big Oil corporations that made profits of more than $130 billion last year alone.
How much worse can it get? Consider this: After meeting with Anadarko Oil Corp. officials, a commissioner from Weld County (which has more wells than any U.S. county) told the Greeley Tribune, “We are the new Saudi Arabia.”
Let’s get real.
Do we need oil and gas until we can shift to a clean-energy economy? Yes. Should we shift to that clean-energy economy as soon as possible? Yes. In the meantime, do we need much stronger protections from the impacts of drilling and fracking? Yes, absolutely.
But do we also need to hear sanctimonious, oil money-soaked politicians ranting about getting the government off of Big Oil’s back? No.
Tell these politicians to take their dirty oil money and go play somewhere else.
The growing Texas solar industry is offering a safe harbor to unemployed oil and gas professionals amidst the latest oil and gas industry bust, this one brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Houston Chronicle reports.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>