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Protect Public Lands From the Fracking Frenzy

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Protect Public Lands From the Fracking Frenzy

Waterkeeper Alliance

One of the things that makes America great is our cherished natural treasures. Millions of acres across our beautiful country are public, meaning they belong to us, the American people. But our public lands, many of America’s iconic landscapes, and the waterways that surround them, are under threat from fracking.

Canyonlands National Park from the Green River Overlook, in the Island in the Sky district, UT. This area could be threatened by fracking. Photo credit: Creative Commons Photo by Phil Armitage.

The Obama Administration recently proposed new rules for oil and gas fracking on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), including those in the national forest system, and federal lands that are nearby many treasured national parks.

Theodore Roosevelt and Grand Teton National Parks are just two of our treasured public lands threatened by the rapid expansion of oil and natural gas drilling and fracking. A dozen units of our National Parks already have oil and gas operations within them, while 30 units may be threatened in the future with drilling. Nationwide, the BLM estimates that 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on federal land are fracked.

Recent media reports say that the BLM in Colorado will be auctioning off nearly 12,000 acres of public lands for oil and gas drilling and the majority of those acres are located less than 10 miles from Mesa Verde, one of our iconic National Parks. Rocky Mountain National Park is already suffering air quality problems from drilling and fracking on nearby public lands. Southern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are surrounded by public lands targeted by industry.

Our cherished public lands face severe air and water pollution from the fracking boom. The animal and plant species dependent upon those lands face habitat loss. And people living and recreating on or near these public lands suffer many health threats.

BLM's proposed rules are too weak and pave the way for corporate profits at the expense of our American treasures. But we have an opportunity to tell the federal government to take the only real path to protect us and our national treasures. The BLM is seeking public comments on the proposed rules until Aug. 23.

Considering the conduct of companies engaged in fracking, the weakness of the government bureaucracies charged with regulating this industry, the cascade of new information and disclosures about the health and environmental perils associated with this extraction method, Waterkeeper Alliance has concluded that fracked gas is not the solution for our energy problems.

Instead of reducing our dependence on coal and leading us to a renewable energy future, the fracking industry threatens our health and environment, accelerates climate change, and presents the single greatest impediment to a long-term sustainable energy future.

Fracked gas and its illusions of cheap and “clean” energy threaten to lead us to carbon dependence for the next century, causing irreparable damage to our climate and imposing immoral costs to our children. The only way to ensure our transition to renewables and healthy future is to start saying no to the fracking industry with a unified voice.

Join Waterkeeper Alliance by adding your name to the list of citizens who want to tell President Obama and the Bureau of Land Management to ban fracking on public land.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING and PUBLIC LANDS pages for more related news on this topic.

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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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