California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80 percent of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.
Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement.
Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.
“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California director for Food & Water Watch.
The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.
While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”
It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow—and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.
The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known asDOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.
The third threat to California’s water supply, according to Scow, is that all of the oil and gas we’ve produced via fracking will eventually get burned and thus contribute to global warming, “which leads to more droughts.”
A study published by Utah State University researchers earlier this year bolsters his claim. It concluded that natural variation alone couldn’t account for the severity of California’s drought, and that climate change has in fact made it worse.
There’s a fourth threat to Californians that needs to be considered. Fracking is not just a threat to California’s water cycle, but also to quality of life in general.
Residents of California’s Central Valley region already suffer from a variety of health problems associated with oil drilling, including nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, and rare cancers, as well as a series of respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
“Even before fracking, the area had the worst air and water pollution in California,” says Madeline Stano, a staff attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “With fracking, the pollution and the economy are getting worse.”
No major studies have been done on how fracking effects water quality and human health, making it hard to quantify just how big of an impact it has had. But the toll it's taking on the economy is becoming all too clear.
The Central Valley is a major agricultural zone as well as ground zero for oil production in the Golden State. Some 616 of 621 reported fracking sites are in the region, where the drought has already claimed 17,000 agricultural jobs, according to a study by UC Davis. Every drop of water used for fracking is permanently unavailable for agricultural use, which will only make the situation worse for Central Valley residents.
To add insult to injury, close proximity to fracking sites dramatically decreases property values. “The oil industry and the governor consistently claim fracking is good for the Valley and its economy,” Stano says. “But the reality is the opposite.”
Activists say it’s time for California Governor Jerry Brown to step in and issue a moratorium on fracking in order to protect the health and wellbeing of Californians and all Americans.
“The only state that’s going to do anything about fracking and climate is California, and we haven’t done anything about it,” says Linda Capato, fracking campaign coordinator for 350.org. “The governor has a pretty good record on the environment, but that doesn’t mean anything if he continues to allow fracking.”
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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>
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