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Fracking Giant Sues Dimock Resident for $5M for Speaking to Media About Water Contamination

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Fracking Giant Sues Dimock Resident for $5M for Speaking to Media About Water Contamination
Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa., displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Ever since the dangerous consequences of natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing—popularly known as "fracking"—entered the national consciousness, the small town of Dimock, Pennsylvania has arguably been "ground zero" for water contamination caused by the controversial practice.

Now Cabot Oil & Gas, the massive energy company responsible for numerous fracking wells near Dimock, is suing one of the town's residents for $5 million, claiming that his efforts to "attract media attention" to the pollution of his water well have "harmed" the company. According to the lawsuit, Dimock resident Ray Kemble's actions breached an earlier 2012 settlement that was part of an ongoing federal class action lawsuit over the town's water quality. Kemble has stated that Cabot's fracking turned his groundwater "black, like mud, [with] a strong chemical odor."


Earlier this year, Kemble filed a follow-up lawsuit against Cabot, which was based on new findings that could help him prove the link between Cabot's fracking operation and the contamination of his well. Cabot, at the time, argued that the case was built on "inflammatory allegations" intended to "poison the jury pool" and "extort payment" from the company.

Kemble eventually dropped his lawsuit, acting in response to new information that he thought might negatively affect the case. Kemble's lawyers have declined to comment on the nature of that information. Cabot alleged that this lawsuit was a breach of the 2012 settlement contract Kemble had signed, prompting them to counter-sue Kemble.

Cabot's decision to sue Ray Kemble may be motivated by more than their distaste for his now-dismissed lawsuit. In context, it appears meant to intimidate and "send a message" to Kemble and any other resident thinking of voicing similar concerns and objections. Days before Cabot's lawsuit against Kemble was filed, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) arrived in Dimock to examine the groundwater of several homes close to Cabot fracking wells, including Kemble's.

Kemble described the state of his groundwater to the Associated Press: "Take a skunk and every household chemical, put it in a blender, puree it for five minutes and take a whiff. It burns the back of your throat, makes you gag, makes you want to puke. It's all still bad. That's why they're back up here."

The ATSDR told the AP that it is testing Dimock's water for bacteria, gases and chemicals in order to "determine if there are drinking water quality issues that may continue to pose a health threat." Their previous study in 2012 found high levels of chemicals such as methane, cadmium, lead and arsenic. They also found that several residences were "at risk of explosion or fire" due to high methane levels. In the past, several drinking water wells in Dimock have exploded due to the high amount of methane now present in the town's water.

Dimock residents have been expressing concern over the quality of their water for nearly a decade. In 2009, Pennsylvania state officials determined that Cabot Oil & Gas was responsible for the contamination, though the EPA complicated this decision by announcing in 2012 that Dimock's water was "safe" to drink. The EPA arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that its investigators—along with the ATSDR—had found "significant damage to the water quality" due to the presence of nearby fracking wells.

Reposted with permission from our media associate MintPress News.

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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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