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Ohio Fracking Fire Likely Cause of Large Fish Kill

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Ohio Fracking Fire Likely Cause of Large Fish Kill

Ohio Department of Natural Resources and state Environmental Protection Agency officials have launched an investigation to find out what killed a large, but unspecified, amount of fish in a creek that feeds into the Ohio River.

While Ohio officials are willing to concede that a fire at a nearby shale gas fracking site "likely" contaminated Monroe County's Opossum Creek, according to the Columbus Dispatch, one environmental group appears more certain that those dots have a connection. An ODNR official confirmed the fish kill Sunday—just a day after the fire temporarily displaced about 25 area families.

Ohio officials initially said they did not know if a nearby fracking fire caused a fish kill, but that soon changed. Photo credit: Nathan Johnson / Ohio Environmental Council

“The fracking fire appears to have left a miles-long trail of death and destruction in its wake with thousands of dead fish and wildlife floating belly up in this once pristine stream,” Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. “This may be unprecedented, perhaps the biggest Ohio fish kill in memory related to the oil and gas industry."

The fire occurred on the Eisenbarth well pad, near the West Virginia border, after fracking fluid tubes malfunctioned. The fire spread from the tubes to about 20 trucks that were lined on the pad. It could have killed the crayfish, minnows and smallmouth bass that died as far as 5 miles away from the site.

Fish were reportedly killed up to five miles away from the fracking site. Photo credit: Nathan Johnson/Ohio Environmental Council

ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle told the paper she did not know whether the fracking contaminants had reached the Ohio River, and  the EPA said it doesn’t know yet if drinking water in the area has been impacted. Additionally, John Shreve, Monroe County environmental health director, said the contaminants that killed the fish might not be enough to contaminate groundwater.

Shreve said his department is monitoring water quality, administering requested well testing, though no well owners have asked for testing yet.

However, Ohio Environmental Council representatives say the incident is particularly troubling since the creek was once proclaimed by the EPA as one of the state's cleanest waterways.

Monroe County, Ohio's Opossum Creek was once deemed one of the cleanest waterways in the state. Photo credit: Nathan Johnson/Ohio Environmental Council

“Who is to say that more fracking-related environmental tragedies like the one we appear to be seeing in Opossum Creek won’t occur in the future,” Johnson asked. “We just saw a major well blow-out in Morgan County this past May that threatened a nearby creek.”  

“The Ohio legislature needs to step up and overhaul Ohio's pitifully toothless existing law to mandate a much larger separation buffer between oil and gas well sites and nearby streams. Extending the legal stream buffer is an urgent no-brainer for Ohio’s environment.”

No injuries were reported in the fire.

 

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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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