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Group Challenges Approval of Shell's Oil Spill Response Plan in Arctic

Energy
Group Challenges Approval of Shell's Oil Spill Response Plan in Arctic

Oceana

A coalition of conservation organizations will file a lawsuit in Alaska federal court today challenging the federal government’s approval of Shell Oil Company’s Chukchi and Beaufort Sea oil spill response plans.

The plans, approved by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), describe how the company says it will prepare for and respond to a major oil spill caused by exploration drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean. Shell’s drill rigs are headed for the Arctic right now and could be in place in a matter of weeks. A decision in this lawsuit would be the first in a challenge to offshore oil spill response plans in the U.S.

The following is a statement from the coalition of organizations, including Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Pacific Environment and Sierra Club. They are represented by Earthjustice:

“We have been forced to court to make sure the Arctic Ocean is protected and Shell is prepared, as mandated by law. BSEE rubber-stamped plans that rely on unbelievable assumptions, include equipment that has never been tested in Arctic conditions, and ignore the very real possibility that a spill could continue through the winter. The agency has not met minimum legal standards to be sure that Shell’s plans could be effective and that Shell has sufficient boats, resources and spill responders to remove a ‘worst-case’ oil spill in the Arctic Ocean to the ‘maximum extent practicable.’ Even after Deepwater Horizon, Interior Secretary Salazar brushed aside concerns about Shell’s spill response capabilities, stating recently that ‘there is not going to be an oil spill.’

"The American people deserve more. There have been no tests of spill response equipment in U.S. Arctic waters since 2000 and those equipment tests were ‘a failure.’ Today, Shell relies on much of that same equipment, and bases its plans on the assumption that it will clean up more than 90 percent of any spilled oil. Even in relatively favorable conditions, less than 10 percent of spilled oil was recovered after the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills. In the Arctic, sea ice, harsh weather, high seas, darkness and wind may render even that level of cleanup impossible.

"When pushed to explain this assumption, Shell quickly back-pedaled and said that it will not ‘recover,’ but only ‘encounter’ spilled oil—despite the legal requirement to ‘remove’ spilled oil and the fact that the company has used the unrealistic 90 percent projection to justify its choice of vessels and other equipment to protect the shoreline. The company similarly appears to be back-tracking on commitments it made to the Coast Guard for vessel safety and preparedness.

"Similarly, BSEE violated the law when it approved spill response plans that do not describe all available spill response resources. For example, Shell has publicly touted its Arctic containment system, but the spill plans approved by BSEE not only do not include that system, but they also fail to explain why Shell expects the system to work in the Arctic Ocean. Nor has the agency ensured that the company is prepared for a late season spill that could continue unabated through the winter. There is a very real possibility that winter sea ice could close in and shut down spill response leaving a blowout uncontrolled for eight or more months.

"BSEE also signed off on the response plans without a basic understanding of the consequences of the spill response choices Shell made. For example, the agency never considered the effects of Shell’s proposal to apply chemical dispersants in the Arctic Ocean, including threats to fish, birds and marine mammals, among them the endangered bowhead whale.

"As this lawsuit moves forward, we will continue to seek opportunities to work with local Arctic communities, governmental entities, industry and others toward a shared vision for the Arctic, and we will not be distracted or intimidated by aggressive or litigious actions taken by companies like Shell. Nor will we allow them to take shortcuts around established review processes and standards. We cannot allow the future of the Arctic Ocean to be risked on the hope that nothing will go wrong."

Once filed, a copy of the complaint will be available by clicking here.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on these topics.

 

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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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