By Steve Horn and Trisha Marczak
Within immediate vicinity of a central battleground of the Black Hawk War of 1832, land rife with a resource necessary for hydraulic fracturing is in the crosshairs of an industry prepared to turn the area into a battle zone once again.
The resource? Frac-sand—officially known by the industry as fine-grained silica sand—used as a proppant when blasted thousands of feet down the well during the ecologically volatile fracking process as part of the chemical cocktail that serves as the subject of Josh Fox's new documentary film, Gasland II.
The rolling hills of northeastern Iowa's Allamakee County defy the state's stereotypical flat-land geography, and local residents boast of the serene beauty and rich geological history. Yet those same bluffs also play host to robust reservoirs of frac-sand.
In order to extract the frac-sand, mining corporations have adopted a method of newfangled mountaintop removal of sorts, blasting away entire hills laced with this frac-sand to access this new “prize." While devastating the landscape, it's justified by Big Oil as necessary because the Midwest's unparalleled geological characteristics have transformed it into a “New Saudi Arabia for frac-sand."
The Ominous Situation in Allamakee
Frac-sand extraction is temporarily on hiatus in Allamakee, where the County Board issued an 18-month moratorium in February 2013. Despite this legislative move, concerned residents living in the county see the writing on the wall. That's because permits are already being issued for frac-sand-centric rail construction loading zones. Citizens see it as a question not of “if" but of “when."
Allamakee County residents don't have to look far to see evidence the industry is creeping in.
Less than 30 miles away, one of Pattison Sand Company's mines located south of McGregor, Iowa, is already churning out frac-sand, blasting away whole sections of ancient bluffs to obtain it. A quaint 150-foot bluff that stood near the mine just two years ago has now been replaced by barren land.
“This is why we're fighting this," Allamakee County resident Jeff Abbas told us while standing near Pattison's mine, located feet away from what used to be the enormous bluff. “It took hundreds of thousands of years to build this landscape the way it is."
Like his neighbors, Abbas's motive for opposing frac-sand mining in his County has numerous rationales, yet at the core is his appreciation for the land's historical significance and beauty. “It's incredibly fragile, it's incredibly rare ... and now, it's incredibly gone," he said. “It will never be replaced in our lifetime … in anybody's lifetime."
The landscape is an issue that tugs on the heartstrings of locals, yet it's just one concern on a long list of objections.
The silica-rich land of Allamakee County sits atop the Jordan Aquifer, a source of water for 300,000 Iowans not expected to last much longer with current usage rates. Areas of the aquifer are already expected to reach depletion in the next 50 years, according to an Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
The health impacts of frac-sand exposure are also alarming for residents and workers, as recently documented in a June 2012 Occupational Safety and Health Administration bulletin, which highlighted that fine-grained silica exposure causes silicosis which can lead to lung cancer. This sordid scientific reality is also acknowledged in Pattison Sand Company's own literature.
Pattison's Political Connections to the Powerful
Pattison Sand is a Clayton, Iowa-based multi-tentacled corporation incorporated in 2005 and is co-owned by the “Pattison Brothers:" Jeff and Bernard. It has financial ties to the highest levels of Iowa's state- and federal-level government.
The brothers also own Pattison Brothers Mississippi River Terminal, Inc., incorporated in 1970. This tentacle predominantly barges fertilizers, grains and other commodities to market along the Mississippi River on behalf of Iowa's multinational agribusiness corporations. Soon, this wing of the corporation could also barge frac-sand to key markets throughout the U.S. along the Mississippi, as well.
Bernard has donated a generous $35,375 toward Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad's campaign dating back to before he won his November 2010 electoral race, according to the state's campaign finance database.
Branstad is one of the founding members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and winner of its “Pioneer Award" in 1996. ALEC is a corporate-funded “bill mill" and “dating service" that brings together corporate lobbyists and legislators to vote on “model bills" that end up disseminated in statehouses nationwide.
Bernard gave another $5,000 toward Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall election effort, another state run by governor with deep ALEC ties and one where Pattison Sand has a frac-sand mine proposal set to sit in Bridgeport, Wis. His brother Kyle gave Walker an additional $1,100 toward his recall campaign effort.
The lobbyist and registered agent for Pattison Sand and Pattison Brothers Mississippi River Terminal is Steven Schoenbaum, who is also registered to lobby on behalf of agribusiness behemoths Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta.
Robert Nehman heard a knock at his door on Oct. 1, 2012.
On the other side of that door stood a neighbor delivering disturbing news: Minnesota Sands had applied for a permit to mine for frac-sand on a bluff site less than a mile down his quaint gravel road. Nehman immediately launched into action, first through research, and then through grassroots efforts with fellow community members.
Not familiar with frac-sand mining, he was astonished by his findings. The industry brought heavy truck traffic to the area, with estimates of more than 200 semi-trucks a day on his road that now sees—at most—a dozen vehicles daily.
Heavy traffic is only the tip of the iceberg of his long list of qualms, which include the threat of blasting away bluff tops and the health impacts of silica dust debris. The icing on the cake is the role it plays in permitting the ecologically hazardous fracking process to take place itself.
Nehman's role as a leading state activist wasn't a chosen path.
“I don't even look at myself as a protester or activist. I'm a concerned citizen who has a stake in this," Nehman said in an interview.
Nehman is a founding member of Allamakee County Protectors, a network of residents successful in lobbying for a temporary county-wide frac-sand mining reprieve. The Allamakee County Protectors journey began the day Nehman heard the knock on his door and went into full swing Oct. 14, 2012, when they were joined by 200 fellow county residents and sympathizers at a town hall meeting.
Two days after the meeting, residents once again showed up at a gathering hosted by Minnesota Sands. Days after the industry's meeting, Minnesota Sands pulled its permit application for mining in Allamakee County. It was a small victory, but far from the end of the uphill battle for Allamakee County Protectors.
In February 2012, the group had successfully lobbied the County Board to issue a moratorium on the frac-sand mining effective through June 4, 2014. The moratorium gives the Allamakee County Protectors time to research and write ordinances that would sufficiently protect their interests if the moratorium goes unextended.
As of April 2013, the Allamakee County Protectors had constructed 63 different ordinances pertaining to frac-sand mining, including provisions mandating that mining corporations restore land to its original state—essentially an impossible task.
For ordinance enactment, they must be approved by the county board, comprised of three Republican supervisors: Larry Schellhammer, Dennis Koenig and Sherry Strub. While the supervisors approved the temporary moratorium, they didn't give the protectors the totality of the initially requested two-year moratorium.
Koenig said in an interview that he'll take the next 18 months to assess the lack of laws and regulations for the industry before making any further decisions regarding regulations or moratorium extensions.
“I'm concerned about the folks in Allamakee County, if there'd be a burden to bare—with road repair, when you change the scenery ... all of these things need to be addressed," Koenig said. “I don't want to see our taxpayers have to pay for these things."
Wisconsin has served as a crucible for what residents in Iowa don't want to happen to their communities.
In a documentary produced by Nehman, Frac-sand Land: The Incredible Story of the Vanishing Hills, he interviews Wisconsin residents who have seen their communities turned upside-down by the industry, changing from peaceful farming communities to heavy-traffic industrial mining zones.
Koenig said he plans to visit the mines and mining communities to learn firsthand how the industry could impact Allamakee County.
“All I hear are horror stories," Koenig said. “I want to know for myself."
The Writing's in the Rail
While a moratorium exists and permits for frac-sand mining have been temporarily pulled, there's another issue at hand: frac-sand transportation, a boom industry of its own.
Reilly Construction is in the process of creating a rail loading station just 1.5 miles from the once-proposed mine site, less than a mile from Nehman's home and from the local school his young daughter attends.
In November 2010, Reilly Construction appeared before the county planning and zoning commission requesting the area be rezoned for industrial use. Reilly proposed adding 8,000 feet of rail to create a loading zone capable of accommodating 100 train cars at any given time.
At the time of the initial proposal, Reilly Construction made no mention of frac-sand loading. The company has since acknowledged, though, that the loading zone would be used to transport frac-sand.
Yaggy Colby, a Reilly Construction consultant, testified to the Allamakee County Board in 2010 that a Flood Plain Development Permit from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was not necessary, as it was not a designated flood zone. However, Federal Emergency Management Agency maps indicate the area just outside of New Albin is in fact a flood zone and one that was devastated by major floods in 1993 and 2011.
An Environmental Assessment Worksheet for proposed expansion of Minnesota's Quarry frac-sand mining operations indicates transportation will be provided by Reilly Construction from Minnesota's Fillmore County to Allamakee County's New Albin siding site, with an estimated 240 truck trips per day. This would lead to heavy traffic and potential health impacts from sand loading, a major issue for area residents.
This has county residents on alert, as the moratorium on frac-sand mining was issued based on the understanding that, among other concerns, the health-related impacts of transporting frac-sand have not been explored. With more than 100 uncovered train cars expected to be loaded with frac-sand on a daily basis, residents question whether the current moratorium should prevent the project from moving forward.
Preparing to Protect the Land
The deck is stacked high against citizens concerned about industrial frac-sand mining in the Hawkeye State, a place where Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry came in 2011 for a campaign pitstop, stating Iowa should begin fracking underneath its Forest River Basin.
Far from a mere local issue, the Obama administration's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—as a case in point—gave $22 million in stimulus money to industry giant, Preferred Sands, in May 2010.
“USDA Rural Development's Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan provided American Recovery and Reinvestment Act support that will help the company preserve 50 jobs at Preferred Sands," the USDA website explains.
In a complex arrangement of money maneuvering, the $22 million was first handed to Preferred Sands by Siemens, backed by the USDA loan guarantee. Siemens, as covered on DeSmogBlog in November 2012, is one of the world's largest private water corporations. It stands to gain as water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity, as could be the case with the Jordan Aquifer.
Further, several frac-sand mining corporations are publicly-traded on Wall Street, including EOG Resources (Enron Oil and Gas), which is involved of all aspects of the fracking process from cradle to grave. U.S. Silica Sand also became publicly-traded in February 2012, becoming the first frac-sand mining-centric corporation to go public.
Fending the industry off via Iowa's Home Rule charter will also be an uphill battle. ALEC has a model bill that essentially guts Home Rule authority and was already utilized in Pennsylvania in 2012. That model bill is part of the broad-sweeping PA Act 13, currently the subject of a state-level Supreme Court case to be decided later this year.
In the sphere of agribusiness, Iowa Governor and ALEC founding member Terry Branstad has shown he is willing to carry the water of the “bill mill," helping ram through its infamous “ag-gag" legislation that criminalizes filming of corporate factory farms.
Given the tough state of play, Iowa activists we spoke to stated that civil disobedience—though a last straw—is a real possibility.
Visit EcoWatch's FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
This is a collaborative report by DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Mint Press News staff writer Trisha Marczak.
Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
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By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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