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Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes

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Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes

Oil companies are increasing California’s earthquake risk by injecting billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater a year into hundreds of disposal wells near active faults around Los Angeles, Bakersfield and other major cities, according to a new report from Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Water Action.

A boom in hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in California would worsen the danger of earthquakes, the report finds, by greatly increasing oil wastewater production and underground injection. Extracting the Monterey Shale’s oil could produce almost 9 trillion gallons of contaminated wastewater, the report estimates. That could expose California to a surge in damaging earthquakes like those seen in Oklahoma, Texas and other states experiencing rapidly increased fracking and wastewater production.

The report, On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing and Increased Earthquake Risk in California finds that millions of Californians live in areas threatened by oil industry-induced earthquakes. Academic research and government experts conclude that wastewater injection can reduce faults’ natural friction and trigger earthquakes.

“This isn’t rocket science. We’ve known for decades that wastewater injection increases earthquake risk,” said report co-author Jhon Arbelaez of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “Since Gov. Brown resolutely refuses to learn from other communities’ experience with fracking across the country, our only option to protect California families is to prevent fracking altogether.”

State officials have not examined whether past earthquakes were triggered by fracking or disposal wells, and existing and proposed regulations do not adequately address the risk. Because of research and knowledge gaps and inadequate monitoring, state officials cannot protect Californians from induced quakes.

“An oil fracking boom in California could raise the risk of devastating earthquakes in some of our biggest cities,” said report coauthor Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., of the Center for Biological Diversity. “State officials are ignoring the problem, but as risky new oil production techniques spread, we could see trillions of gallons of wastewater shot into the ground near active faults. We need to nip this danger in the bud by halting fracking and acidizing.”

 

“The risk of seismic impacts is yet another illustration that the massive wastestream resulting from oil production threatens California's drinking water and public safety," said report coauthor Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action. "While threats to water, air and health have been well-documented, our emerging understanding of the risk of induced seismicity is yet another reason for a time-out on fracking. The findings in this report continue this troubling trend: the more we learn about California's oil industry, the more cause we find for alarm.”

The On Shaky Ground report’s key findings:

  • A majority of California’s active oil industry wastewater injection wells are near recently active faults.
  • Millions of Californians are at risk for induced earthquakes: the oil industry operates hundreds of wastewater injection wells very close to active faults and near major California population centers, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
  • Research and monitoring are dangerously inadequate: the increased earthquake risk from California’s existing wastewater injection wells or fracked wells is unstudied. And state oil regulators require no seismic monitoring near wastewater injection wells.
  • Regulations don’t protect Californians: due to significant knowledge gaps, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources cannot safely regulate the earthquake risk from oil and gas production and wastewater disposal.
  • Other states have seen surges in wastewater-induced earthquakes: areas outside California where fracking and underground wastewater disposal have proliferated have suffered as much as a 10-fold increase in quake activity.
  • Halting fracking is the best solution: given the earthquake risk linked to wastewater disposal, as well as unconventional oil production’s other environmental risks, the best way to protect Californians is to halt fracking, acidizing and other dangerous oil and gas recovery techniques.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING pages 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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