Category Archives: Environmental

News and current work being carried out that could potentially damage the environment and or planet.

Australia: City spiders grow bigger and faster than country cousins

Credit: Elizabeth Lowe/University of SydneyCredit: Elizabeth Lowe/University of Sydney

Something about city life appears to be causing spiders to grow larger than their rural counterparts. And if that’s not enough to give you nightmares, these bigger urban spiders are also multiplying faster.

new study published yesterday in PLOS One shows that golden orb weaver spiders living near heavily urbanised areas in Sydney, Australia tend to be bigger, better fed, and have more babies than those living in places less touched by human hands.

The study’s authors collected 222 of the creatures from parks and bushland throughout Sydney, and correlated their sizes to features of the built and natural landscape.

They dissected each specimen back at the lab, and determined its size, health, and fecundity by measuring four attributes: the length of the spider’s longest leg segment, the ratio of that leg segment to overall body weight, the amount of fat on the spider, and its ovary size.

To measure urbanisation, the authors looked primarily at ground cover throughout the city, at several scales, where they collected each spider: Are surfaces mostly paved? Is there a lack of natural vegetation? Lawns as opposed to leaf litter?

“The landscape characteristics most associated with larger size of spiders were hard surfaces (concrete, roads etc) and lack of vegetation,” said Elizabeth Lowe, a Ph.D student studying arachnids at the University of Sydney.

The largest and smallest spiders collected for the study (5 millimetres is about the length of an adult ladybug, which an orb weaver would probably eat)Elizabeth Lowe/University of SydneyThe largest and smallest spiders collected for the study (5 millimetres is about the length of an adult ladybug, which an orb weaver would probably eat) Elizabeth Lowe/University.

Humped golden orb weavers are a common arachnid along Australia’s east coast. They get their name from their large, bulging thorax, and the gold silk they use to spin their spherical webs. They typically spend their lives in one place, constantly fixing the same web (which can be a metre in diameter). Each web is dominated by a single female, though 4 or 5 much smaller males usually hang around the edges of the web, waiting for an opportunity to mate (only occasionally does the female eat them afterwards).

Paved surfaces and lack of vegetation mean cities are typically warmer than the surrounding countryside. Orb weavers are adapted to warm weather, and tend to grow bigger in hotter temperatures. The correlation between size and urban-ness manifested at every scale. Citywide, larger spiders were found closer to the central business district. And, their immediate surroundings were more likely to be heavily paved and less shady.

More food also leads to bigger spiders, and the scientists believe that human activity attracts a smorgasbord of orb weavers’ favourite prey. Although the study wasn’t designed to determine exactly how the spiders were getting bigger, the researchers speculate that things like street lights, garbage, and fragmented clumps of plant life might attract insects. They also believe that the heat island effect might let urban spiders mate earlier in the year, and might even give them time to hatch multiple broods.

The orb weavers could also be keeping more of what they catch. Because they are such prolific hunters, orb weavers’ webs are usually home to several other species of spiders that steal food. The researchers found that these little kleptos were less common in webs surrounded by pavement and little vegetation.

Lowe says quite a few species of spider are successful in urban areas, and she wouldn’t be surprised if some of these other species were also getting bigger. Despite how terrifying this sounds, she assures us that this is actually a good thing. “They control fly and pest species’ populations and are food for birds,” she said.

This article originally appeared on

Wired UK.

#Swansea Bay: Manmade #Tidal #lagoon could #power 155,000 homes

Tidal LagoonTidal Lagoon.

A manmade lagoon in Swansea Bay could power more than 155,000 homes using tidal power, if plans go ahead.

Swansea Bay has a tidal range of up to 10.5 metres in height. This means there’s a 10.5-metre difference between high tide and low tide — the second highest tidal range in the world. A manmade tidal lagoon can harvest energy form the ebb and flow of this tide.

Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

The tidal lagoon concept is based around a standard sand-core breakwater, similar to many seen in harbour walls or coastal defence systems. In the case of Swansea Bay, it would involve building a 9.5-kilometre wall. This is embedded with hydro turbines that have been used in river hydro power schemes already and in some tidal barrages. The turbines are mounted inside concrete housings and are permanently submerged — to the onlooker it would appear to be a ring-shaped harbour wall with one section of concrete casing.

As the sea outside the breakwater rises, it is held back and a difference in water levels is created. Once this reaches a sufficient height, “sluice gates” are opened and water flows into the lagoon through the turbines to generate energy. This process than occurs in reverse when the tide ebbs away. This means that there are energy-generating opportunities four times per day.

Tidal Lagoon

This would be the world’s first man-made, energy-generating lagoon and it could, if we are to believe the developers, have an energy production capacity of 320 MW and generate 90 percent of Swansea Bay’s annual domestic electricity use for 120 years. The group says that it would also bring investment to South Wales to the value of around £500 million and jobs for 1,900 people.

The devleopers hope that the lagoon could help the UK hit its commitments to delivering 15 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020 — currently just five percent of power is renewably sourced.

Tidal Lagoon

A planning decision is expected to be made on the lagoon in early 2015. If it gets the go ahead, it would be build and connected to the grid by 2018.

Wired UK.

Finland: Ministers call for changes to solar energy tax

The solar energy tax regime has cooled business ardour for producing solar energy. Image: Jussi Kallioinen / YleThe solar energy tax regime has cooled business ardour for producing solar energy. Image: Jussi Kallioinen / Yle

Finnish Customs say that current legislation requires small-scale producers of solar energy to pay taxes, even if the power is used only for a household’s domestic consumption.

Environment Minister Ville Niinistö has said he will raise the matter in upcoming government budget negotiations. Finance Minister Antti Rinne also says that if customs officials are right, the law will have to change.

According to an Yle report Monday, Finnish Customs’ interpretation of current legislation on solar energy means that households will have to pay taxes even if solar power is produced solely for their own consumption.

The guidance from Finnish Customs on the taxation issue has eaten into the profitability of large-scale solar panel producers as members of the business sector have switched off solar power because of the tax exposure.

The Salo-based renewable energy company Areva Solar has observed the cooling enthusiasm of businesses for solar energy as a result of the taxation issue. Last winter the company planned a solar panel farm to be situated atop a local business park in response to growing demand for power. Those plans have since been put on ice.

Environment Minister Ville Niinistö told Yle that he intends to raise the matter during budget negotiations due at the end of August.

“Solar energy is becoming increasingly profitable in small-scale production but our outdated taxation practices are making business growth impossible or at least difficult,” Niinistö remarked.

Rinne: Situation “totally absurd”

Finance Minister Antti Rinne’s view on the matter lined up with those of the Environment Minister.

“This must change. In practice it means that if the interpretation of the law in your news is accurate, then it must be changed,” Rinne said in an interview on Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme.

He said that the government had discussed net metering.

“In practice this means that producers could feed power into the (electricity) grid and earn income. Taxes would then be paid only on the income earned,” he explained.

Rinne said he did not expect any opposition to the proposal in the government’s budget discussions.

Yle Uutiset |

#Tory MPs more likely to oppose #windfarms than #British public – poll

Conservatives opposition undermining projects and investment in renewables, say wind energy companies. 

By Fiona HarveyLittle Cheyne Court windfarm in Camber, Kent, England. Photograph: Haydn West/Rex FeaturesLittle Cheyne Court windfarm in Camber, Kent, England. Photograph: Haydn West/Rex Features.

Conservative MPs are much more likely to oppose onshore windfarms than the national average of the public, a new poll has found.

About four out of five Tory MPs are likely to oppose onshore windfarms in their constituency, according to the poll conducted by ComRes on behalf of REG Windpower. But about six in 10 people across the country, and just over half of those eligible to vote in rural areas, favour onshore windfarms, even if built near them.

More Tory MPs than Labour represent rural constituencies, but only about one-third of people polled in rural areas said they would oppose onshore windfarms built near them.

Wind energy companies are angry that the Tories have suggested next year’s general election manifesto will include a pledge to cut or abolish altogether energy bill-payer subsidies to onshore windfarms, and that Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, has stopped or delayed some onshore wind projects. There are increasing fears that big investors will pull out of UK wind projects, which could stall renewable energy growth.

Andrew Whalley, chief executive of REG Windpower, said: “We’ve been told time and again by Conservatives that they recognise the financial and environmental arguments in favour of onshore wind, but that they can’t support it because their constituents don’t want it in their local areas. This research debunks that argument.

“Local communities not only understand the benefits in terms of energy security and stability of investing on renewables, but are largely accepting of onshore wind projects in their communities. The barrier to progress is the irrational and ideological hostility of many Conservative MPs, which is out of touch with public opinion.

“Conservative opposition to onshore wind, which is most evident in Eric Pickles’ abuse of the planning system to delay and prevent developments, is now undermining projects and investment in what is an established sector. Onshore wind has the potential to help reduce energy costs and our reliance on oil and gas. This potential might not be realised if the Conservatives don’t get on the same page as their constituents.”

However, the poll did not break down members of the public by voting intention, so it is not possible to say how many rural Tory voters or likely Tory voters would favour onshore windfarms in their area. It is possible that Tory MPs are attempting to appeal to their “base” vote by opposing the construction of renewable energy.

Separate polling shows only a small fraction of voters choose their MP based on his or her support for or opposition to renewable energy.

The REG poll questioned about 150 MPs of all parties.

Liberal Democrat MPs were also cooler on onshore windfarms than their party policies might suggest, with a third of those sampled declining to support onshore wind developments in their local area.

According to the poll, 55% of people in rural areas would be happy to have an onshore windfarm near them, compared with 62% nationally. More than 4,500 voters were surveyed.

Separately, 154 MPs were surveyed, of whom 12% of the Conservative members said they would be happy to have an onshore wind development in their area, while 74% of Labour MPs and 64% of Liberal Democrat MPs said they would support an onshore wind development in their community.

EnvironmentThe Guardian.

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows

By Neela BanerjeeTanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)Tanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Fears about possible water contamination and air pollution have fed resistance in communities around the country, threatening to slow the oil and gas boom made possible by fracking.

Fracking into underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers.

The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.

“Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,” concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.

The scientists cautioned that their research, which is ongoing and has yet to be peer-reviewed, “does not say that drinking water has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.”

Rather, they point out that there is no way of knowing the effects of fracking into groundwater resources because regulators have not assessed the scope and impact of the activity.

“The extent and consequences of these activities are poorly documented, hindering assessments of potential resource damage and human exposure,” DiGiulio wrote.

Underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, are a category of aquifers under the Safe Drinking Water Act that could provide water for human consumption.

“If the water isn’t being used now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future,” said DiGiulio, a Stanford research associate who recently retired from the Environmental Protection Agency. “That was the intent of identifying underground sources of drinking water: to safeguard them.”

The EPA documented in 2004 that fracking into drinking water sources had occurred when companies extracted natural gas from coal seams. But industry officials have long denied that the current oil and gas boom has resulted in fracking into drinking water sources because the hydrocarbon deposits are located in deeper geological formations.

“Thankfully, the formations where hydraulic fracturing actually is occurring…are isolated from USDWs by multiple layers and often billions of tons of impenetrable rock,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, an industry group.

Industry officials had not seen the Stanford research.

DiGiulio and Jackson plotted the depths of fracked wells, as well as domestic drinking water wells in the Pavillion area. They found that companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area.

“It’s true that fracking often occurs miles below the surface,” said Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford. “People don’t realize, though, that it’s sometimes happening less than a thousand feet underground in sources of drinking water.”

Companies say that fracking has never contaminated drinking water. The EPA launched three investigations over the last six years into possible drinking water contamination by oil and gas activity in Dimock, Pa.; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo. After initially finding evidence of contamination at the three sites, the EPA shelved the investigations amid allegations by environmentalists and local residents that the regulator succumbed to political pressure.

Jackson said the Stanford study’s findings underscore the need for better monitoring of fracking at shallower depths. “You can’t test the consequences of an activity if you don’t know how common it is,” he said. “We think that any fracking within a thousand feet of the surface should be more clearly documented and face greater scrutiny.”

The Stanford study focuses on Pavillion, in part because of DiGiulio’s familiarity with the area when he served as an EPA researcher in the latter stages of the Pavillion water study. Industry and the state of Wyoming questioned the EPA’s methodology after its 2011 draft report found the presence of chemicals associated with gas production in residents’ well water. In June 2013, the EPA turned over the study to Wyoming regulators, whose work is being funded by EnCana, the company accused of polluting the water in Pavillion.

The EPA study looked at whether chemicals migrated upward from fracked geological zones into people’s well water. The Stanford research does not explore the possibility of migration, focusing instead on the injection of fracking chemicals directly into geological formations that contain groundwater.

The EPA does not keep track of whether underground sources of drinking water have been hydraulically fractured as part of oil and gas development, said Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman. “EPA does not maintain a database of all the wells being hydraulically fractured across the country,” she said in an email.

In their presentation, DiGiulio and Jackson noted that the EPA considers the Wind River formation and the Fort Union stratum below it to be underground sources of drinking water. The conventional image of tight geological formations where fracking occurs is that they are monolithic stretches of rock. But the scientists say the geology of the two formations is mostly sandstone of varying permeability and water.

“People think these formations are impermeable, and so they wonder, ‘Why are you worrying about water?’” DiGiulio said. “But it is an extremely heterogeneous environment, with areas of low and high permeability mixed together and with many lenses conducting water.”

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LA Times.