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Landowners Say Gas Companies Kept Them in the Dark on Risks

Energy
Landowners Say Gas Companies Kept Them in the Dark on Risks

Environmental Working Group

Gas drilling companies routinely warn their investors of a litany of possible disasters—such as leaks, spills, explosions, bodily injury and even death—but regularly fail to mention these risks when persuading landowners to sign leases for drilling rights, an Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation found.

EWG researchers compared federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings and natural gas drilling leases used by major companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling and found that, at best, the leases offered only vague mentions of risks that are explicitly listed in the legally required SEC reports. Twenty-three landowners in five states who had signed or been asked to sign drilling leases also told EWG that company representatives who offered the leases made no mention of possible risks.

“These landowners who were left in the dark about drilling risks are likely just the tip of the iceberg,” said EWG senior counsel Dusty Horwitt, J.D. “Industry documents, regulators and lawyers all indicate that there may be thousands of landowners who unknowingly put their water, homes and health at risk by signing natural gas leases. It’s time to level the playing field so that landowners know the facts about drilling before they sign a lease.”

Federal law designed to protect investors against fraud requires companies to disclose “the most significant factors that make the offering speculative or risky.” But in the midst of perhaps the largest natural gas rush in U.S. history, there has been little or no regulation of the transactions that give drilling companies access to private lands atop gas and oil reserves.

“We were never told about any kind of risks whatsoever,” Craig Sautner of Dimock, Penn., told an EWG researcher. Craig and his wife Julie leased about 3½ acres to Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. in 2008.

Water wells serving the Sautners and 18 other nearby families were contaminated and became unusable after Cabot began drilling in 2009, according to Pennsylvania officials. Cabot, which has publicly disputed the finding, did not respond to EWG’s request for comment. The state recently lifted an order requiring Cabot to provide replacement water to the families over the objection of the Sautners, who say their well water is still contaminated. Several affected residents in Dimock, including the Sautners, have sued Cabot for damages.

The company’s 2008 10-K form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission contains explicit warnings that appear nowhere in the Sautners’ lease agreement and that the couple says never came up in their discussions with company representatives:

“Our business involves a variety of operating risks, including—well site blowouts, cratering and explosions; equipment failures; uncontrolled flows of natural gas, oil or well fluids; fires; formations with abnormal pressures; pollution and other environmental risks; and natural disasters.

“Any of these events could result in injury or loss of human life.”

The pollution in Dimock is not an isolated incident. State officials in Wyoming, Ohio and Colorado have documented recent cases of water contamination linked to natural gas drilling, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has documented serious problems associated with drilling as far back as 1987. On Thursday, Dec. 8, the EPA also concluded that fracking could be responsible for a case of groundwater contamination in Wyoming.

EWG’s report calls on states to require that companies disclose drilling risks to landowners in the same way the SEC requires it for shareholders.

  • Click here to view the report online.
  • For more information on gas and oil drilling, click here.

For more information, click here.

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Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. Click here to visit our website.

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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