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Maryland Passes 2.5 Year Fracking Ban

Energy
Maryland Passes 2.5 Year Fracking Ban

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation, voting 102 - 34, that would prohibit fracking permits in the state until October 2017. The bill will head to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's desk in the coming days.

After months of campaigning, a bill that prohibits fracking for two and a half years passed overwhelmingly in the Maryland legislature. Photo credit: Don't Frack Maryland

Earlier this week, the Maryland State Senate passed the legislation, voting 45-2, to prohibit fracking permits in the in the state. The governor's position on the bill is unknown, but the Senate and House passed the bill with a veto-proof majority.

“After months of campaigning, a bill that prohibits fracking for two and a half years passed overwhelmingly in the Maryland legislature today," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "This is a testament to the growing movement to protect our communities from the dangers of fracking. Conventional wisdom in the state was that we could never get a moratorium passed in Maryland, just as we were also told we could never get a ban in New York. But naysaying just inspired us all to work harder in bringing the voice of the people to Annapolis in this grassroots initiative. Now it is time for Governor Hogan to heed the call of the people and sign the bill that gives Marylanders more time to examine the impacts of fracking."

Business owners in Western Maryland have expressed concern that fracking would greatly impact the booming tourism industry in that part of the state. More than 100 Western Maryland business owners signed a letter to the leadership of the General Assembly in support of the fracking moratorium.

“Maryland’s more sustainable businesses, like farming, tourism and restaurants would be devastated by fracking," said Eric Robison, owner of Eagle Rock Construction, LLC and president of Save Western Maryland. "We don’t need a short term boom and bust economy, we need to maintain a strong economic foundation for future generations.”

Don’t Frack Maryland has sent more than 25,000 messages supporting a moratorium. Letters signed by more than 100 health professionals, and more than 50 restaurant owners, chefs, winemakers and farmers from across the state have also been delivered to the General Assembly. And last night, the Friendsville Town Council, whose city is the center of a thriving white-water rafting industry in the state, sent a letter supporting a moratorium to President Miller, urging him to encourage a vote in the Senate.

Earlier this week, actor and Maryland native Edward Norton lent his support to the Maryland fracking moratorium in a radio ad. The ad, paid for by Food & Water Watch, features Norton speaking out about how fracking could harm Maryland’s environment and public health, as well as tourism in the state.

Polling has also shown that a clear majority of Marylanders oppose fracking and support action from the General Assembly to prevent drilling in the state.

"This moratorium will give legislators more time to evaluate the public health, economic and societal dangers of fracking, and give our communities statutory protections against drilling in the meantime," said Dr. Ann Bristow, a commissioner on Governor O'Malley's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, on behalf of the Don't Frack Maryland campaign.

According to Food & Water Watch, more than 425 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the effects of shale gas development now exist, and 75 percent of those have been published since January 2013. Of the 49 studies that investigated the health effects of fracking, 47—more than 96 percent—found risks or adverse health outcomes.

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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.

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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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