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Illinois Fracking Fight Continues

Illinois Fracking Fight Continues

Will Reynolds

Graphic courtesy of Food & Water Watch

After lengthy private negotiations, a pro-fracking regulatory bill finally saw the light of day in the Illinois legislature last week. Unsurprisingly, it's being rushed through the legislature faster than a vampire escaping the first rays of morning sunshine.

Under the direction of Illinois Gov. Quinn, this bill, which will give rise to shale gas extraction of oil and gas in a state that has not yet seen large-scale fracking, had been crafted in the shadows for many months. But what has caught everyone in Springfield unawares is the equally swift and ferocious citizen opposition, which has arrived on the scene with a wooden stake and the fury of Van Helsing.

Four days of sit ins and arrests at Gov. Quinn’s office mark the rapidly growing momentum of the grassroots movement to stop fracking in Illinois. As an intense series of actions last week demonstrate a deep level of commitment among concerned citizens, the national spotlight turns toward Illinois and has captured the attention of powerful progressives, environmentalists and national anti-fracking forces.

"Residents in the areas targeted for fracking have been denied any meeting and any voice in the backdoor negotiations," said Dayna Conner, a Southern Illinois landowner and mother of three who was arrested for sitting in at Gov. Quinn’s office last Wednesday. "Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan have negotiated away our health and well being to the gas industry for fracking that will devastate our homes and put our families at risk."

At the heart of the issue is the regulatory bill. Although the bill has half-hearted support from some environmental groups who argue that compromise regulation is better than none at all, the grassroots believe it will pave the way for widespread fracking in two-thirds of the state. They are stalwart in advocating for a moratorium on fracking and vow to ramp up their fight until fracking is stopped.

Pointing to serious inadequacies in the proposed regulations, they note that the bill was crafted with the participation of industry and legislators taking thousands in campaign contributions from fracking interests. The invitation-only meetings included no input from scientists and health professionals. Many downstate environmental leaders believe that residents and organizations in the areas of the state targeted for fracking would have agreed to far fewer compromises had they been included in negotiations.

Activists point to dangers from water contamination, air pollution and fracking in Illinois' active earthquake zones. They question whether fines will be large enough to deter violations, and doubt rules will be adequately enforced by a badly underfunded, understaffed department that's notoriously cozy with extracting industries. Several counties already passed anti-fracking ordinances, but the state bill would stop them from setting many local restrictions. With little or no scientific basis for the regulatory bill, they believe that Attorney General Madigan, Gov. Quinn and others who brokered the deal are sacrificing their communities for the oil and gas industry's hypnotizing promises of jobs and revenue.

Those arguments were the basis for escalating protests last week. Friday was the fourth day-long sit in at Gov. Quinn’s office as activists demanded a meeting with the governor to urge him to support a moratorium. They pointed to countless requests for a meeting over the previous 18 months and called this a last resort. The sit in on Thursday ended with three arrests as the Capitol building closed, with many more concerned citizens there in support throughout the day.

Springfield resident Melody Lamar was arrested Thursday and spoke to a rally Friday to deliver the message that Illinois politicians would be held responsible for what she called the inevitability of sick families, ruined farms and environmental devastation from fracking.

The sit ins and arrests began Tuesday after citizens packed the Illinois House Executive Committee’s hearing on the regulatory bill, demonstrating strong opposition and erupting in chants of “shame!” when it passed.

Joining residents from across the state in speaking against the bill were Academy Award-nominated Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox and Sandra Steingraber, PhD, a nationally acclaimed environmental health expert, biologist and author who grew up in Illinois. Steingraber testified that the proposed regulations failed to protect public health and the environment, and called the process for creating them "anti-scientific decision making."

Earlier in the week in Normal, IL, Josh Fox launched a grassroots tour for his sequel documentary, Gasland Part II, which comes out on HBO in July. More than 400 packed the theater, giving the film a long standing ovation and staying late to learn how to take action.

As grassroots groups such as Illinois People’s Action and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing increase pressure for a moratorium, the national anti-fracking, environmental and progressive movements are focusing on Illinois. Actor, director and leading anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo was among those urging the state not to allow fracking, tweeting on Thursday that, "Fracking cannot be done safely, don't poison Illinoisans."

National environmental organization 350.org sent an email blast to their membership in Illinois on Thursday, joining the grassroots in targeting phone calls to Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan. Other national organizations including CREDO Action, Greenpeace, Food & Water Watch, Breast Cancer Action, Center for Biological Diversity and Americans Against Fracking have previously weighed in.

After escalating action by the grassroots, both the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club clarified their organizational positions on the compromise regulatory bill and the moratorium. Both note that the regulatory bill will not protect public health and the environment and that they would prefer a moratorium. The NRDC wrote last Monday, "make no mistake, there are still deficiencies and this bill won't make fracking safe." Sierra Club Illinois echoed the sentiment later that same day, writing that the new regulations "will not make fracking safe."

Yet, politicians and industry representatives have used the support of two national environmental groups for the regulatory bill to marginalize residents from fracking regions who continue fighting for a moratorium.

It’s clear that citizens want the regulatory bill laid to rest and that now no problem resulting from fracking will go unnoticed or unchallenged. The newly emboldened grassroots warn that the regulatory bill will not only spell disaster for Illinois but that it will come back to haunt those who created and supported it. As concerned citizens testified last Tuesday, they intend to hold those who paved the way for fracking Illinois responsible for every accident and every poisoned well. Given their increasing momentum—and agreement in the environmental and progressive community that the regulations are grounded in political expediency rather than science—elected officials would be wise to take heed.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.


Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

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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