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Fracking Study Needs to Take Drilling Dangers into Account

Energy
Fracking Study Needs to Take Drilling Dangers into Account

Southern Environmental Law Center

North Carolina needs to objectively and critically investigate the risks of hydraulic fracturing before considering changes to existing law, according to comments submitted Oct. 18 by the Southern Environmental Law Center to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments on behalf of American Rivers, Environment North Carolina and the Sierra Club. As DENR accepts public comments on studying fracking in North Carolina, Republican leadership in the N.C. Assembly seeks to overturn the governor’s veto of another bill, S. 709, that would fast-track fracking in North Carolina.

“Other states have assumed that fracking can be done safely without carefully studying the potential effects, and now they’re trying to clean up the mess,” said Geoff Gisler, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This study must take a critical look at fracking and its potential consequences and ask whether it is appropriate for North Carolina before discussing how it could be done.”

The groups emphasize concerns about contamination of water supplies, high water usage, contaminated wastewater disposal, road and pipeline infrastructure, and air pollution from wells. In states where fracking has occurred, residents have reported spills and fumes, health problems, contaminated tap water, sick and dying animals, earthquakes and other problems.

The chemicals injected into the ground during fracking may include toxic and dangerous chemicals. A recent Congressional report listed 750 chemicals and compounds used in fracking by 14 oil and gas service companies from 2005 to 2009. Of those chemicals, 29 chemicals—including benzene and lead—are either known or potentially cancer-causing, or pose other serious risks to human health.

Fracking is a gas extraction method that injects pressurized water, a mixture of chemicals, and sand into rock formations to create cracks that release gas and can require 5 million gallons of water for a single well. Concerns over water supplies for drinking water and food production already exist with recent droughts in North Carolina.

Horizontal drilling for fracking and injecting chemicals underground are currently prohibited by North Carolina law. The General Assembly already enacted legislation this session to study fracking without S.709’s presumptive conclusion that it is in the best interest of the state to change existing N.C. law to allow it.

Potential gas formations in the Triassic Basins are underneath or upstream from public drinking water supplies for 2.4 million people in North Carolina, stretching from the densely populated areas of the Triangle through the Sandhills to the South Carolina state line. Other communities downstream withdraw drinking water from the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Tar Rivers. A smaller area of the shale occurs along the Dan River in Stokes, Rockingham, Yadkin and Davie Counties.

Congress exempted fracking from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005 after heavy lobbying by oil and gas companies, meaning that companies are not required to disclose their chemical mixtures under federal law. Companies can and do refuse to disclose the chemical mix that they inject into the ground.

In addition to chemical hazards, the sought-after gas can stray far from drilling sites. In a 2011 peer-reviewed, scientific study, Duke University scientists found, on average, methane concentrations 17 times above normal in samples taken from water wells near gas drilling sites that involve fracking.

For more information, click here.

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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