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Steingraber Calls Out Illinois Fracking Regulations

Energy
Steingraber Calls Out Illinois Fracking Regulations

Jeff Biggers

Before environmental lobbyists and legislators push a hydraulic fracking bill through the Illinois legislature, they need to sit down with farmers in Clinton County and learn how well regulations defended their water, farms and cankered lives from the contamination of coal slurry in the Pearl Aquifer.

Then they would fight to the end, like five southern Illinois county boards, for a moratorium on fracking—instead of a regulatory compromise that undercuts their efforts.

That was the advice given to me by an old farmer this week, as Illinois' controversial bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing rushes its way to a vote that will have national implications.

In the process, potentially impacted residents in southern Illinois have repeatedly raised an important question: Who should we trust to speak on behalf of protecting our water, land and lives: The moratorium stance of Dr. Sandra Steingraber or the compromising role of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups?

Dr. Sandra Steingraber testifies in front of the Illinois House Executive Committee Hearings on proposed fracking regulatory bill, SB 1715, on May 21.

Left in ruins from the boom and bust cycles of heavily-mechanized coal mining by absentee coal companies, who have left behind 1,300 abandoned mines, few other regions in the country have borne the deadly burden of compromised environmental and workplace safety regulations than the coalfields of my own southern Illinois.

In a line: Anyone vaguely familiar with the history of coal mining knows that similar regulatory compromises have been disasters.

From mining safety to stalled black lung enforcement, from deadly coal slurry spills to illegal coal ash dumps, from coal truck accidents to coal barge crashes, to violation-ridden strip-mining destruction and pathetic reclamation enforcement, Illinois' notoriously rogue, underfunded and inept regulatory agencies have generally allowed Big Coal to operate in a continual state of violation for decades.

Now comes the fracking rush, and new claims by the major environmental groups of a historic compromise for regulations for "clean fracking."

Clean fracking. Kinda like "clean coal."

Not for Steingraber, the distinguished scholar at Ithaca College, and a nationally acclaimed environmental health expert and author who grew up in Illinois.

"I stand with you for as long as takes," she said at a press conference on Monday on the moratorium, organized by the Illinois People's Action (IPA) and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE), "Because when lives are at stake, you want the best possible science, you want the most comprehensive science, and we're not going to give up until we get there."

She also joined Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox at the premiere of his Gasland 2 film documentary in Normal this week.

Testifying at the Illinois House Executive Committee hearings on proposed fracking regulatory bill, SB 1715, Steingraber didn't pull any punches, especially for the environmental organizations supporting the regulatory compromise:

Let me say that again, and my words here contain a special message for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan who brokered the deal that produced this piece of legislation: The backers of this bill claim that it contains the strongest regulations for fracking in the nation. That is nonsense. New York State promulgated a far stricter set of rules that prohibited drilling on state lands and set aside certain watersheds as off-limits to fracking altogether—and still we rejected them.

Moreover, New York State's regulations were subject to numerous public hearings and comment periods. Hundreds of scientists provided testimony, as did thousands of business owners, farmers, faith leaders and ordinary citizens. And thrice, over nearly five years of deliberation, we've sent a deeply flawed environmental impact statement back to the drawing board.

Because of that democratic process, New Yorkers now know a lot about fracking. The more we find out, the deeper our objections.

And that's because, when you look under fracking's hood, you see terrifying problems. Behind the hard sell and soothing promises, this contraption is unsafe at any speed.

Here's what we've learned in New York: Regulations cannot prevent well casings from leaking as they age and fail. Or keep methane from migrating through underground faults. Or eliminate the 24/7 noise pollution from drilling. Regulations cannot keep benzene from rising out of boreholes. There is no good storage solution for radioactive wastewater. And the jobs fracking provides are temporary and toxic.

Thus, Attorney General Madigan needs to know that should this bill pass and become law, she will be held personally responsible for every contaminated well, every fiery explosion, every horrific accident, and every sick child.

More fundamentally, scientists haven't yet identified all the chemicals released from drilling and fracking operations. Clearly, if you don't know what impacts need mitigating, there is no way of judging if any given set of regulations sufficiently mitigates them.

You can watch Steingraber's complete testimony here:

Steingraber concluded:

A moratorium would also allow you time to study occupational health threats to the workers in the industry. These include, but are not limited to, head injuries, traffic accidents, blunt trauma, silica dust exposure and chemical exposures. Oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries; silica dust exposure is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer. With jobs creation as a central argument for the approval of fracking in Illinois, your need to understand the health and disability risks that come with these jobs.

I'll close with lines of poetry from Illinois' noble poet laureate, John Knoefple. The poem is titled, Confluence, and is set on the banks of the Sangamon River: The world in peace / This laced temple of darkening colors / It could not have been made for shambles.

With fracking, shambles is what you get. Illinois, you are worth so much more than the wisps and puddles of gas and oil inside your bedrock.

As someone who has witnessed the destruction of "regulated" coal mining on miners, families, farms and forests in southern Illinois, this sounds to me like a compromise worth fighting against.

 

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

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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