Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

From Fracking to Cracking

Energy
From Fracking to Cracking

Food & Water Watch

By Alison K. Grass

Monaca, Pa. could be the site of an ethane cracker like this one built by Shell in Singapore, which releases around 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxide a year. Image: Shell Chemical

Fracking causes many public health and environmental problems and the last thing that Pennsylvanians need is another way for the oil and gas industry to capitalize on the Marcellus Shale at the expense of their health and well-being. But Governor Corbett lured the multinational oil and gas giant, Shell Oil Company into the state to do just that. 

Corbett, who has received $1.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, forced through legislation in February 2012 that would exempt the company from property and corporate income taxes for 15 years if they build a petrochemical ethane cracker plant in the western part of the state. A cracker plant creates chemicals like ethylene, in this case from Marcellus Shale gas, to manufacture plastics and fertilizer. 

Cracker plants are known to emit large amounts of toxic air pollution including nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to ozone creation and increase airborne particulates. To date, approximately 44 total cracker plants exist in the U.S., mostly in Louisiana and Texas. 

By March 2012, Shell announced that it selected a preferred site in Beaver County that is already home to a zinc smelting company, Horsehead Inc. Shell and Horsehead have drafted a land-option agreement and Shell has until June 2013 to decide whether or not it will purchase the property. 

In June 2012, the Senate approved the proposed state budget for Fiscal Year 2012- 2013, and on July 2, 2012, the General Assembly signed into effect a Tax Code component, which included the Pennsylvania Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit, otherwise known as the “Cracker Credit.” Through the Corbett Administration’s own admission, the Cracker Credit, which goes into effect in 2017, “was part of the initial agreement Shell made with Pennsylvania this spring.” It will ultimately provide Shell Oil Company with up to $1.65 billion in tax credits over the next 25 years. 

This deal was fast-tracked and the media pointed out that the tax deal was kept quiet. StateImpact reported, “When Governor Corbett announced in March that Shell was targeting Beaver County, he never mentioned a $1.65 billion tax break.” 

Already there seems to be a lot of closed-door collaboration between decision makers, with little transparency or public involvement. In June 2012, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a regional economic development organization, organized a tour to one of Shell’s cracker plants Louisiana. There were attendees from the Beaver County, Beaver County Corporation for Economic Development, Potter Township, Central Valley School District, Center Township, PA Governor’s Action Team and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Following the trip, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance held “community education sessions” in Beaver County. These sessions appear to be the only opportunities for public participation in the process so far.

Although Shell will likely have to complete environmental and engineering assessments and studies, and garner appropriate permits, things seem to be moving forward. In a press release, Beaver County Commission Chairman, Tony Amadio said: “Over the next several months, we will be working closely with the other local governments to take the official steps that are part of the KOEZ application.” This is the application that if approved, would make the land tax exempt for Shell. 

During fracking volatile organic compounds, including benzene and toluene, are released and can mix with nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel-fueled vehicles and equipment to form ground-level ozone. These emissions contribute to the enhanced greenhouse effect and climate change and air quality could conceivably worsen in the region if the plant is approved.

The company states that a project like this can be completed within a five-year timespan. Residents need to use this window as an opportunity to demand transparency and tell their elected officials that closed door sessions with Shell are not in the public’s best interest—that protecting the integrity of their health and air quality should be the priority.

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

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.

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch