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Federal Judge: Pipelines Must Not Cross Streams Without Considering Endangered Species

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Federal Judge: Pipelines Must Not Cross Streams Without Considering Endangered Species
Gnats hover near a barn equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine on Oct. 11, 2014 in Polk, Nebraska. The barn was built directly in the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline by Bold Nebraska, an organization opposed to the pipeline. Andrew Burton / Getty Images

A federal judge upheld his April 15 ruling Monday, tossing a key permit required by the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects to cross streams and wetlands.


Montana U.S. District Judge Brian Morris affirmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot use a blanket water-crossing permit to approve new oil and gas pipelines without considering their impacts on endangered species.

"The court rightly ruled that the Trump administration can't continue to ignore the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL," Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) senior attorney Jared Margolis said in a press release. "Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable. We'll continue to fight to protect vulnerable species, our waters and the climate from this kind of reckless development."

At stake is a permit called Nationwide Permit 12, which the Army Corps uses to fast-track approvals for construction across waterways, The Associated Press explained.

Morris ruled in April that the Army Corps did not consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service as to how these crossings would impact endangered species when it renewed the permit in 2017, Reuters reported.

Morris' April ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups focusing on the approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline specifically. However, the ruling blocked the use of Nationwide Permit 12 for all projects, CBD explained.

Utility groups and the government asked Morris to alter his ruling, arguing that it interfered with thousands of construction projects, according to The Associated Press. In response, Morris said that the permit could be used for electrical lines or pipeline repairs, but not the construction of new oil and gas pipelines.

"To allow the Corps to continue to authorize new oil and gas pipeline construction could seriously injure protected species and critical habitat," Morris wrote, according to The Associated Press.

The ruling does not actually block construction work on Keystone XL or other pipelines, but it is another setback for the long-delayed project, since it now cannot build across streams without further environmental review.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry around 830,000 barrels of oil a day along 1,200 miles from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with pipelines traveling to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It was first blocked by President Barack Obama over fears it would contribute to the climate crisis, but President Donald Trump resuscitated it in 2017.

Pipeline owner TC Energy said it would "promptly" appeal the ruling, according to Reuters.

Other members of the fossil fuel industry also plan to appeal.

"Arbitrarily singling out certain new projects only prolongs the highly disruptive nature of this order," Amy Conway of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America told The Associated Press.

But environmental advocates thought the law was on Morris' side.

"Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters," Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney Cecilia Segal said in the CBD Press release. "Today's ruling makes clear that climate-busting pipelines like Keystone XL cannot be built until the federal government does its job and properly analyzes these projects' devastating effects on their surrounding communities and wildlife. If that analysis is based on science and facts, pipelines like Keystone XL will never see the light of day because they remain, and always will be, a dire threat to our water, wildlife and climate."

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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