To the supporters of oil and natural gas extraction, correlating traffic collisions with fracking will likely sound like another attempt to bash their favorite means of obtaining energy. However, The Associated Press has the numbers to back it up—there are more fatal car crashes in areas of heavy fracking. Many more.
"We are just so swamped," Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, TX told the AP. "I don't see it slowing down anytime soon."
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The AP's analysis reveals alarming figures. For instance, the average rate of deaths per 100,000 people in North Dakota drilling areas grew by an average of 148 percent from 2009 to 2013, compared to the previous five years. For the rest of the state, that measure fell by 1 percent in the same time frame.
Even in drilling areas where an increase was nowhere near that dramatic, it still tells the same story. In Pennsylvania drilling areas, traffic fatalities rose by 4 percent during that time frame. They fell by 19 percent everywhere else in the state.
The root of the AP's findings are the growing presence of large trucks hauling fluid and/or equipment. Regardless who is at fault in the crashes, more trucks hit the roads quickly in those areas to cash in on the booming industry. That usually occurs before communities can build better roads or ones with more lanes. When it comes to the cash cow that that fracking can be, there's no time to wait on more traffic signals or even addition shifts for officers who might help direct traffic, according to the AP.
Fracking requires 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips per well to deliver oil and gas or the chemicals involved in the fracking process. According to the AP, older drilling techniques needed one-third to half as many trips.
In 21 Texas counties where drilling expanded in recent months, deaths per 100,000 residents are up an average of 18 percent, the analysis found. In the rest of the state, they are down by 20 percent.
Traffic fatalities in West Virginia counties known for drilling grew by 42 percent last year, compared to an 8-percent decline elsewhere in the state. including where the Mazzei-Saum boys were killed, rose 42 percent in 2013. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8 percent. In Clarksburg, WV, a truck carrying drilling water overturned onto a car carrying a two boys. Nicholas Mazzei-Saum, 7, and his brother, 8-year-old Alexander, were both killed.
"We buried them in the same casket," their father, William Saum, told the AP.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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