Gov. Cuomo's Office Tilts Study to Downplay Fracking Risks
A federal study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), commissioned by New York state to assess the impact of fracking on well water, was edited and delayed by state officials when they found some of its conclusions apparently not to their liking, according to Capital New York, which covers state politics.
"The study, originally commissioned by the state in 2011, when the administration was reportedly considering approving fracking on a limited basis, was going to result in a number of politically inconvenient conclusions for Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to an early draft of the report by the U.S. Geological Survey obtained by Capital through a Freedom of Information Act request," wrote Capital New York reporter Scott Waldman.
New York sits on a rich lode of natural gas, part of the Marcellus shale deposit, but it has had a moratorium on fracking since 2008. However, many environmentalists and community groups fear it is on the way, and that the study is intended to set up approval. The study looked at naturally occurring methane in wells in the proposed fracking area to set a baseline for methane levels, should fracking be approved.
Capital New York found disparities between the original draft and the final version of the study that came after extensive communication between the Cuomo administration and USGS. It said that the differences reveal that "some of the authors' original environmental and health risks associated with fracking were played down or removed."
"These edits [to the study] happen to correlate closely with some potential environmental and energy minefields for the governor," says Capital New York. "The Cuomo administration, for example, is currently weighing whether or not to permit gas storage in underground salt caverns near the Finger Lakes. Opponents of the project have raised the prospect of methane pollution as a reason to deny the project."
That project was just approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.
Although the emails between state officials and USGS were heavily edited, Capital New York found much evidence in them to show that the state officials had attempted to steer the final version of the study. Some of the emails from the USGS reminded New York officials of that the USGS focuses on objective science and doesn't advocate a particular public policy, suggesting that there was pressure to the contrary. The emails also showed that the state Department of Environmental Conservation tracked those who read the study online.
"While there is no evidence to suggest that any numerical findings in the fracking study were changed after the unusually extensive feedback from administration officials, the changes to the explanation of those findings in the report are plain to see," concludes Waldman.
In response to today's article, Alex Beauchamp of Food & Water Watch and New Yorkers Against Fracking said, “The Cuomo Administration's apparent manipulation of a federal study on fracking is deeply alarming. Drilling and fracking contaminate water. No amount of political meddling can change that. It's time for Governor Cuomo to truly follow the science, which clearly points to the inherent and unacceptable risks of fracking to public health and the environment. It's time for him to ban fracking in New York."
Capital New York also painted a picture of a governor caught between a primary opponent advocating for a permanent fracking ban (he defeated her last month) and a Republican opponent who wants to lift the moratorium immediately. So Cuomo is doing what many politicians up for reelection in November are doing: "taking and maintaining a non-position."
"He’s holding off as he waits for unspecified studies, with unspecified timelines, on the potential health impacts," writes Waldman. "In the meantime, a moratorium remains in place that could theoretically be lifted at anytime. Cuomo has indicated only that nothing will change before Election Day."
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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.
"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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