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3 Major Spills in 7 Years: Keystone Has Leaked Far More Than TransCanada Estimated

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3 Major Spills in 7 Years: Keystone Has Leaked Far More Than TransCanada Estimated
shannonpatrick17 / Flickr

TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline has already leaked a significant amount of oil three times in less than seven years. That's a much higher rate than the company predicted in its risk assessments provided to regulators, Reuters reported.

Since the 2,147-mile pipeline began operating in 2010, it has gushed 5,000-barrels just this month in Marshall County, South Dakota, and about 400 barrels each in Hutchinson County, South Dakota in 2016 and in Sargent County, North Dakota in 2011.


However, TransCanada's spill risk assessment estimated that the chance of a leak of more than 50 barrels to be “not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States,"

And in South Dakota, where the line has leaked twice, the estimate was for a “spill no more than once every 41 years."

The spill risk analysis was conducted by international risk management company DNV GL, which did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.

TransCanada could lose its permit to operate the Keystone in South Dakota if an investigation into this month's massive leak determines that the pipeline operator violated its license. Conditions include construction standards and environmental requirements.

“They testified that this is going to be a state-of-the-art pipeline," South Dakota Public Utilities Commission member Gary Hanson told Reuters. “We want to know the pipeline is going to operate in a fashion that is safe and reliable. So far it's not going well."

Nebraska regulators approved an alternative route for the Keystone's controversial sister project, the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline, just days after the spill in South Dakota.

President Donald Trump pushed the KXL forward in March through an executive order, overturning President Obama's rejection of the project.

As it happens, TransCanada's spill risk estimate for the KXL is also very low—2.2 leaks per decade with half of those at volumes of 3 barrels or less. Spills more than 1,000 barrels would occur at a rate of once per century, it estimated.

Meanwhile, cleanup efforts for the Nov. 16 spill are underway. TransCanada announced Friday that it has recovered more than 44,000 gallons of oil so far.

“Air quality monitoring continues regularly without concern and there have been no water issues or suspected risks to water wells. As a safety precaution, TransCanada sampled one residential water well yesterday at a location about 1.5 miles from the site to alleviate any concerns—all test results were normal," the company said.

But in a setback for the pipeline operator, a federal judge on Wednesday allowed a key lawsuit against the KXL's permit to move forward, The Hill reported. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris rejected a request from the Trump administration and KXL developers to throw out the lawsuit.

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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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