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Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana

Energy

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.


As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.

The government in Alberta is throwing in $1.1 billion to support construction of the pipeline, which will stretch 1,210 miles from the town of Hardisty, in Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, and will begin operating in 2023, as The Hill reported. The investment from Alberta's government will support construction through 2020 and triggered the surprise announcement that construction would begin. The pipeline is predicted to carry 830,00 barrels of crude every day for transfer to refineries and export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alberta will also guarantee a $6 billion loan to TC Energy.


On Friday, Montana's Department of Environmental Quality issued the final state permits the company needed, agency spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage said, as the AP reported.

Even though the pipeline has been delayed for some time as it has been held up in court and demand for oil has plummeted, and even though Montana is under "stay-at-home" orders, the pipeline was granted an exception to Gov. Steve Bullock's order. The "stay-at-home" directive did not address worker camps, according to the AP.

The plans for the pipeline call for 11 worker camps, some housing up to 1,000 people. Local officials and tribal leaders for indigenous people say the camps could potentially spread the coronavirus into the area. Gov. Bullock, who is concerned about the virus spreading, "would want those concerns addressed prior to TC Energy and their contractors finalizing their plans of operations for those segments of construction," said spokeswoman Marissa Perry to the AP.

TC Energy said it would check all workers for fever and ensure they practice social distancing.

However, as Bill McKibben, founder of 360.org, noted in The Guardian, the worker camps on the edge of Native American territory bring up memories of introduced epidemics that wiped out 90 percent of the Native American population.

"As Faith Spotted Eagle of the Yankton Sioux put it, 'this causes eerie memories for us [of] the infected smallpox blankets that were distributed to tribes intentionally,'" McKibben wrote.

Environmental activists agreed with that assessment.

"This is a shameful new low," Catherine Collentine, associate director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement, as The Hill reported. "By barreling forward with construction during a global pandemic, TC Energy is putting already vulnerable communities at even greater risk."


A hearing to block the work is scheduled for April 16. In January, the federal judge who will hear arguments did not issue an order to stop work because TC Energy said there were no immediate plans to begin work, according to the AP.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the environmental groups asking the judge to intervene, said the company's decision to "jump the gun" before next week's hearing was an insult to U.S. District Judge Brian Morris, as the AP reported.

"We are confident the court will not be bullied, and will overturn President Trump's second approval, just as he overturned President Trump's first approval, as unlawful," Volker said.

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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