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Texas Oil Companies Want Federal Dollars to Protect Them From Climate Change

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Texas Oil Companies Want Federal Dollars to Protect Them From Climate Change
Flooding in Houston's energy corridor following Hurricane Harvey on Sept. 4, 2017. Revolution Messaging / Public domain

The burning of fossil fuels is the driving force behind climate change, and now the companies responsible want the government to help pay to protect them from the consequences.

Texas is seeking at least $12 billion to build a network of seawalls, levees, gates and earthen structures that would protect a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the area south of Houston that houses 30 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.


The Army Corps of Engineers approved $3.9 billion for smaller projects that would protect oil facilities in Port Arthur and Freeport in July, The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reported.

"The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride," Sierra Club Houston executive committee member Brandt Mannchen told The Associated Press. "You don't hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There's all this push like, 'Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.'"

Texas Republican politicians like Senators John Cormyn and Ted Cruz, who signed a letter urging President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris agreement and are generally hostile to public spending, support federal funding for the project. Many see it as a priority after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and took out 25 percent of the area's refining capacity for a time.

"Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge," Gulf Coast-area Republican Judge Matt Sebesta told The Associated Press.

The idea for the "Ike Dike," as the 60-mile network of barriers is called, took off after Hurricane Ike battered Texas in 2008 and caused half-a-million gallons of crude oil to be released into Texas waters, Climate Liability News reported.

Most local environmental groups supported the general need to protect the coast from storm surges, and prevent storm-caused oil spills, but were worried a plan would be rushed through after Harvey that would bypass environmental reviews assessing its potential impact on wildlife and the salinity of Galveston Bay.

"You may prevent the bay from being ruined by a release of petrochemicals, but you may ruin it by changing the hydrology," Galveston Bay Foundation spokesperson Scott Jones told Climate Liability News.

Some of those concerns were mitigated when the federal government approved insufficient funding to fast track the project last year.

In July, the Army Corps of Engineers approved $1.9 million to study the best design for the Ike Dike, and the study draft and environmental impact statement should be released in September, The Houston Chronicle reported.

The limited project that has been approved is the Sabine Pass-to-Galveston Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management and Ecosystem Restoration. The initial funding proposal protected larger parts of the coast, but as the project has been refined it has focused more specifically on refineries, The Associated Press reported.

Part of the project will raise dirt levees and build or expand flood walls around Port Arthur, where refineries owned by Saudi-owned Motiva, Valero Energy Corp. and Total S.A. are located.

"You're looking at a lot of people, a lot of homes, but really a lot of industry," Army Corps of Engineers resident engineer in Port Arthur Steve Sherrill told The Associated Press.

Another part of the project will build 25 miles of new seawalls and levees in Orange County, where facilities belonging to Chevron and DuPont are located. A third will increase and heighten seawalls protecting Freeport, as well as a Phillips 66 export terminal for natural gas and many chemical plants.

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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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