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Energy Transfer Partners Fined $431,000 for Rover Pipeline Spills

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Energy Transfer Partners Fined $431,000 for Rover Pipeline Spills
Richland County Wetland destroyed by spilled drilling fluids during construction of Rover Pipeline, April 14. Sierra Club

Construction of Energy Transfer Partners' new Rover Pipeline only began mid-February but the project has already resulted in 18 incidents involving mud spills from drilling, stormwater pollution and open burning that violated the Clean Air Act.


The Dallas-based company—which is also the operator of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline—has been fined $431,000 by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for water and air pollution violations across various sites in Ohio.

As The Columbus Dispatch reported, the incidents occurred from late March up to Monday's 200-gallon release of mud in Harrison County. The largest discharge leaked millions of gallons of bentonite mud, a drilling lubricant, into a protected wetland in April.

Notably, Craig Butler, the Ohio EPA director, told The Washington Post that the largest spill could reach 5 million gallons, much higher than the original 2 million gallon estimate.

An Energy Transfer Partners spokesman responded, "We have no idea where they came up with those figures."

Butler told The Post that two of the spills affected drinking water supplies and that two municipalities needed to adjust their filtration systems to protect drinking water.

As far as Energy Transfer's response, Butler said the company has been "dismissive," "exceptionally disappointing" and unlike any other response he has seen. According to Butler, the company claimed that the state EPA lacks the authority to interfere with the Rover project.

Butler said he arranged a meeting with Energy Transfer Partners executives to say "how upset Ohio was" and to arrange new response plans. However, the company said it would continue to operate and has not yet paid any of its fines.

An Energy Transfer spokeswoman told The Columbus Dispatch that the "small number of inadvertent releases of 'drilling mud' during horizontal drilling in Ohio ... is not an unusual occurrence when executing directional drilling operations and is all permitted activity by (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)."

"We do not believe that there will be any impact to the environment," she said, adding that the company is managing the Rover Pipeline situation in accordance with its federal- and state-approved contingency plan.

Ohio EPA officials contacted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an analysis of the project. Butler said the state EPA is also examining other legal options.

The finished 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.

The Sierra Club condemned Energy Transfer for failing to inform the public of its numerous spills and violations. Rather, the news was discovered after the Sierra Club attorney Richard Sahli filed a records request with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the documents, the company anticipates even more spills throughout the duration of the project, which is estimated to last six months.

"Energy Transfer has caused more widespread environmental damage throughout Ohio than any other company in history," Sahli said."This pattern of reckless destruction calls for the strongest penalties provided in Ohio law, including a criminal investigation of the responsible individuals within the corporation and its subcontractors."

Jen Miller, director of Sierra Club Ohio, is calling on the Ohio EPA to halt the pipeline's construction.

"Energy Transfer is either incompetent, or simply doesn't care about Ohioans' safety," Miller said. "The recklessness constructing Rover Pipeline has put our clean water, air, and land in immediate danger with its spills and violations, and it must be stopped. Ohio EPA needs to keep our communities safe by forcing a halt to the pipeline's construction until the company completely reorganizes its construction program and fully remedies the harm it has already caused to communities and landowners thus far."

"If Energy Transfer is already destroying our air, water and land, how can we trust them to build a pipeline that actually functions properly?" Miller asked. "Energy Transfer has proven to not be trustworthy."

The Sierra Club has tallied a number of Rover's environmental violations across Ohio:

April 5, 2017: unauthorized pollution release impacting tributaries of Woodfield Reservoir in Monroe County, failure to control stormwater

April 8, 2017: 1,000 gallons of drilling fluid pollution released into wetland near Indian Fork River, in Tuscarawas County; covered 2500 square foot area of wetland

April 10, 2017: 600 gallons of drilling fluid pollution released into stream, wetland and pond in Richland Township, Belmont County

April 10, 2017: unauthorized pollution release impacting tributaries of Woodfield Reservoir in Monroe County, failure to control stormwater

April 11, 2017: unauthorized pollution release from failure to manage stormwater in Bloomdale, Wood County

April 11, 2017: Clean Air Act violation, open burning of site preparation material near a home in Toronto, Ohio

April 11, 2017: Stormwater violations in Wood, Richland, and Crawford Counties because of failure to manage vehicle tracking of drilling materials onto public roadways

April 12, 2017: unauthorized pollution release into Bull Creek in Wood County, failure to control stormwater

April 13,2017: 2 million gallons of drilling fluid pollution accumulating in high quality wetland adjacent to Tuscarawas River in Navarre Township, Stark County; covered 500,000 sq foot area of the category 3 wetland

April 14, 2017: 50,000 gallons of drilling fluid pollution released into wetland in Mifflin Township, Richland County

April 17, 2017: 200 gallons of drilling fluid pollution released into a pond in Monroe Township, Harrison County

April 22, 2017: 200 gallons of drilling fluid pollution released into stream in Wooster Township, Wayne County

May 2, 2017: unauthorized pollution release from failure to manage stormwater in Bloomdale, Wood County

May 3, 2017: unauthorized pollution release into Brushy Fork Creek, Cadiz, Harrison County, failure to control stormwater

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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