Deafening mystery grows in Cuba

Physics of injuries, methods don’t add up, officials say
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the Trump administration is considering closing the U.S. embassy in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/AP 2015)
By Josh Lederman, Michael Weissenstein and Matthew Lee Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room.
Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba.

The top U.S. diplomat has called them “health attacks.” New details learned by The Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.
“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”
Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.
Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August — nine months after symptoms were first reported.
It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels, of the cloak-and-dagger rivalries that haven’t fully dissipated despite the historic U.S.-Cuban rapprochement two years ago that seemed to bury the weight of the two nations’ Cold War enmity.

But this is Cuba, the land of poisoned cigars, exploding seashells and covert subterfuge by Washington and Havana, where the unimaginable in espionage has often been all too real.
The Trump administration still hasn’t identified a culprit or a device to explain the attacks, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials, Cuban officials and others briefed on the investigation. Most weren’t authorized to discuss the probe and demanded anonymity.
“The investigation into all of this is still under way. It is an aggressive investigation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week. “We will continue doing this until we find out who or what is responsible for this.”
On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration is considering closing down the U.S. embassy in Havana. Tillerson’s comments were the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardizing the historic restart of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”
Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack — by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia, or some combination thereof.

Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.
Aside from their homes, officials said Americans were attacked in at least one hotel, a fact not previously disclosed. An incident occurred on an upper floor of the recently renovated Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower steps from the Malecon, Havana’s iconic, waterside promenade.
The cases vary deeply: different symptoms, different recollections of what happened. That’s what makes the puzzle so difficult to crack.
In several episodes recounted by U.S. officials, victims knew it was happening in real time, and there were strong indications of a sonic attack.
Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitched chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims awoke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds.
The attacks seemed to come at night. Several victims reported they came in minute-long bursts.
Yet others heard nothing, felt nothing. Their symptoms came later.
The scope keeps widening. Last week, the State Department disclosed that doctors had confirmed another two cases, bringing the total American victims to 21. Some have mild traumatic brain injury, known as a concussion, and others permanent hearing loss.
Even the potential motive is unclear. Investigators are at a loss to explain why Canadians were harmed. Fewer than 10 Canadian diplomatic households in Cuba were affected, a Canadian official said. Unlike the U.S., Canada has maintained warm ties to Cuba for decades.
Sound and health experts are equally baffled. Targeted, localized beams of sound are possible, but the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would probably be large and not easily concealed. Officials said it’s unclear whether the device’s effects were localized by design or due to some other technical factor.
And no single, sonic gadget seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent array of physical responses.
“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”
Other symptoms have included brain swelling, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving Cuba and some suffered only minor or temporary symptoms.
After the U.S. complained to Cuba’s government earlier this year and Canada detected its own cases, the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police traveled to Havana to investigate.
FBI investigators swept the rooms, looking for devices. They found nothing, several officials briefed on the investigation said.
In May, Washington expelled two Cuban diplomats to protest the communist government’s failure to protect Americans serving there. But the U.S. has taken pains not to accuse Havana of perpetrating the attacks.
Cuba’s government declined to answer specific questions about the incidents, pointing to a previous Foreign Affairs Ministry statement denying any involvement, vowing full cooperation and saying it was treating the situation “with utmost importance.”
“Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” the Cuban statement said.

Inside German Bomber

 

An Inside Look at the Germans’ Deadly Bomber

Cutaway diagram shows a German Gotha bomber.CreditB. Corvinus/The New York Times Mid-Week Pictorial, Aug. 9, 1917

Awful though it was, some good came of a German air raid on London in July 1917. Twenty-two Gotha bombers had flown in for the attack, but only 19 returned, Prime Minister David Lloyd George told a secret session of the House of Commons a few days later. The incursion had not been made with impunity, he said.

“A stalwart American fighter now in active service at the American camp ‘somewhere in France.’” (Censors would permit no more specific identification.)CreditThe New York Times Mid-Week Pictorial, Aug. 9, 1917

The downing of the bombers allowed an artist working for The Times Mid-Week Pictorial to render the airplanes’ general structure and arrangements in a cutaway diagram, including the racks and chutes in which 14 60-pound bombs were carried over the target, and the bombardier’s sighting window on the underside of the fuselage. The diagram also showed the biplane’s 260-horsepower Mercedes engines, manufactured by Daimler Motors.

(This was the month in which King George V restyled the British royal family as the House of Windsor, and dropped the names Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, for fairly obvious reasons.)

More at Source

Tigers Kill Drone–video

 

WATCH: In The War Between Tigers And Drone, Chalk One Up For Tigers

 VIDEO:  Click on full-screen box, lower right.
YouTube

Never underestimate a tiger, no matter how fat.

It’s an enduring truth we’d all do well to remember — and one that attendants at a tiger enclosure at the Siberian Tiger Park in China’s Heilongjiang province have learned all over again.

They scrambled a flying drone to catch the attention of some of the, let’s say, bigger big cats and get them some exercise. Trouble is, the tigers managed to track down the drone and bat it out of the air.

Then, naturally, the Siberian tigers tried to eat it.

Happily, all of it was caught on film, which you can watch above, courtesy of China Central Television. From the dramatic chase to the quadcopter’s grim end … to the quadcopter’s revenge from beyond the grave, when it startled the tigers as it started smoking. Eventually, the staff retrieved it from the tigers’ big mitts.

As NPR’s Bill Chappell reported last year, this isn’t the only small victory tigers have recently racked up. In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund announced that for the first time in a century the population of tigers in the wild rose, getting a 20 percent boost in numbers since 2010.

That said, National Geographic notes that Siberian tigers remain endangered, threatened by poaching and loss of habitat.

Goverment Twists Fracking Report

 

Image result for photos fracking

 

EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

Those Big Boxes

 Image result for photos shipping containers

The Shipping Container    LISTEN at source  (9 minutes)

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Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn “containerisation” from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.

Image result for photos shipping containers

Electricity from Ocean Waves

 

1st wave of wave-born power hits

Buoys that really tap ocean currents go online in Hawaii

A wave energy device converts the movement of the ocean into electricity at a Navy test site at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. (Northwest Energy Innovations)
Image 1 of 2

By Cathy Bussewitz   Associated Press   In Chicago Tribune

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — Off the coast of Hawaii, a tall buoy bobs and sways in the water, using the rise and fall of the waves to generate electricity.

The current travels through an undersea cable for a mile to a military base, where it feeds into Oahu’s power grid — the first wave-produced electricity to go online in the U.S.

By some estimates, the ocean’s endless motion packs enough power to meet a quarter of America’s energy needs and dramatically reduce the nation’s reliance on oil, gas and coal. But wave energy technology lags well behind wind and solar power, with important technical hurdles still to be overcome.

To that end, the Navy has established a test site in Hawaii, with hopes the technology can someday be used to produce clean, renewable power for the fleet and provide electricity to coastal communities around the world.

“More power from more places translates to a more agile, more flexible, more capable force,” Joseph Bryan, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, said during an event at the site. “So we’re always looking for new ways to power the mission.”

Hawaii would seem a natural site for such technology. As any surfer can tell you, it is blessed with powerful waves. The island state also has the nation’s highest electricity costs — largely because of its heavy reliance on oil delivered by sea — and has a legislative mandate to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2045.

Still, it could be five to 10 years before wave energy technology can provide an affordable alternative to fossil fuels, experts say.

For one thing, developers are still working to come up with the best design. Some buoys capture the up-and-down motion of the waves, while others exploit the side-to-side movement. Industry experts say a machine that uses all the ocean’s movements is most likely to succeed.

Also, the machinery has to be able to withstand powerful storms, the constant pounding of the seas and the corrosive effects of saltwater.

“You’ve got to design something that can stay in the water for a long time but be able to survive,” said Patrick Cross, specialist at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which helps run the test site.

The U.S. has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by one-third from 2005 levels by 2030, and many states are seeking to develop more renewable energy in the coming decades.

Jose Zayas, a director of the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Energy Department, which helps fund the Hawaii site, said the U.S. could get 20 to 28 percent of its energy needs from waves without encroaching on sensitive waters such as marine preserves.

“When you think about all of the states that have water along their coasts, there’s quite a bit of wave energy potential,” he said.

Wave energy technology is at about the same stage as the solar and wind industries were in the 1980s. Both received substantial government investment and tax credits that helped them become energy sources cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.

But while the U.S. government and military have put about $334 million into marine energy research over the past decade, Britain and the rest of Europe have invested more than $1 billion, according to the Marine Energy Council, a trade group.

“We’re about, I’d say, a decade behind the Europeans,” said Alexandra De Visser, the Navy’s Hawaii test site project manager.

The European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland, for example, has 14 grid-connected berths that have housed dozens of wave and tidal energy devices from around the world over the past 13 years, and Wave Hub in England has several such berths. China, too, has been testing dozens of units .

Though small in scale, the test project near Kaneohe Bay represents the vanguard of U.S. wave energy development. It consists of two buoys anchored a half-mile to a mile offshore.

One of them, the Azura, which extends 12 feet above the surface and 50 feet below, converts the waves’ vertical and horizontal movements into up to 18 kilowatts of electricity, enough for about a dozen homes. The company working with the Navy, Northwest Energy Innovations of Portland, Ore., plans a version that can generate at least 500 kilowatts, or enough to power hundreds of homes.

A Norwegian company developed the other buoy, a 50-foot-wide, doughnut-shaped device called the Lifesaver. Cables anchor the 3-foot-tall ring to the ocean floor. When the sea wobbles the buoy, the cables move, turning a generator’s wheels. It produces an average of 4 kilowatts.

Test sites run by other researchers are being planned or expanded in Oregon and California. One of them, Cal Wave, run by California Polytechnic State University, hopes to provide utility-scale power to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Hawaii buoys are barely noticeable from shore, but developers envision dozens of machines working at once, an idea that could run into the same opposition wind turbines have faced from environmentalists, tourist groups and others.

“Nobody wants to look out and see wind turbines or wave machines off the coast,” said Steve Kopf, CEO of Northwest Energy Innovations.

More in Wikipedia

Numbers Big and Small–Juno Spacecraft

NASA’s Juno spacecraft travelled 1.7 billion miles, in 5 years, at 165000 miles an hour to reach orbit around the planet Jupiter.  Only one problem:  it was 1 second late.  

Thanks to Alice for pointing this out  in This Week.

 

(note: Jupiter is the Roman version of the ancient Greek chief god, Zeus.  Juno is the Roman version of the ancient goddess Hera, consort of Zeus.)  Jupiter is largest planet in our star’s system.

What is our name for our star?

Juno spacecraft enters Jupiter’s orbit   source This Week

July 5, 2016

Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly five years after its launch, NASA’s Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter late Monday.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, thrilled scientists received a signal from the spacecraft at 11:53 p.m. Eastern time announcing it was in orbit after a 35-minute engine burn. The most difficult part of the entrance took place at around 10:30 p.m., when Juno passed through a belt of radiation where electrons went back and forth at nearly the speed of light and could have easily fried the spacecraft’s electronics, but they were protected by a titanium vault.

The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter was likely the first planet formed after the sun and scientists say it could “hold the keys to understanding the origin of the solar system,” The New York Timesreports. “Juno is really searching for some hints about our beginnings, how everything started,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, said. “But these secrets are pretty well guarded by Jupiter.” The craft’s instruments were designed to measure the magnetic and gravitational fields of Jupiter, and its cameras will likely capture images of new moons. Juno’s scientific instruments were turned off before it arrived at Jupiter, and will be turned back on in two days. On Aug. 27, the spacecraft will get its first up-close look at the planet. Catherine Garcia

The tissue-engineered robotic sting ray

 

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VIDEO at source

Synthetic Stingray May Lead To A Better Artificial Heart

(Left) The tissue-engineered robotic ray, made of gold, silicone and live muscle cells. (Right) The titanium molds that scientists used to create the rays.

(Left) The tissue-engineered robotic ray, made of gold, silicone and live muscle cells. (Right) The titanium molds that scientists used to create the rays.  Karaghen Hudson and Michael Rosnach

Scientists have created a synthetic stingray that’s propelled by living muscle cells and controlled by light, a team reports Thursday in the journalScience.

And it should be possible to build an artificial heart using some of the same techniques, the researchers say.

“I want to build an artificial heart, but you’re not going to go from zero to a whole heart overnight,” says Kit Parker, a bioengineer and physicist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute. “This is a training exercise.”

Previous artificial hearts have been versions of mechanical pumps. An artificial heart made from living muscle cells would behave more like a natural heart, Parker says, and would be able to grow and change over time.

“The heart’s built the way it is for a reason,” he says. “And we’re trying to replicate as much of that function as we possibly can.”

A heart and a stingray may seem pretty different. But both need to overcome problems that involve fluid and motion, Parker explains. A stingray has to propel itself through the water. A heart has to propel blood through the circulatory system.

And all of that was on Parker’s mind a couple of years ago when he visited an aquarium with his daughter. At an exhibit where visitors can touch rays as they swim by, his daughter put her hand in the water. “The stingray was coming at it,” he says, “and with a quick flick of its pectoral fin it just smoothly evaded her hand.”

The coin-sized synthetic stingray (left) next to a skate that nature made, Luecoraja erinacea.

The coin-sized synthetic stingray (left) next to a skate that nature made, Luecoraja erinacea.  Karaghen Hudson/Science

Parker realized that this sort of split-second adjustment is something the heart does all the time as it senses changes in blood flow or pressure.

“The idea just hit me like a thunderbolt,” he says.

By building an artificial stingray, Parker figured, he could learn how to replicate the animal’s ability to respond instantly to changing conditions.

So he came up with a strategy and presented it to Sung-Jin Park, a researcher in his lab.

“I sat down with him,” Parker says, “and I said, ‘Sung-Jin, we’re going to take a rat apart; we’re going to rebuild it as a stingray; and then we’re going to use a light to guide it.’ And the look on his face was both sorrow and horror.”

Parker’s lab had previously built an artificial jellyfish. But a ray was much more complicated. And the team was facing tough questions like, how do you to take cells from a rat and make them swim like a fish?

Park and the rest of the team started working, though. And, eventually, they succeeded.

Their synthetic ray, which is about the size of a nickel, has a transparent body made of silicone and a rudimentary skeleton made of gold.

The ray is propelled by 200,000 heart muscle cells taken from a rat. The cells have been genetically altered to allow the hybrid creature to follow a pair of blue lights.

“We can guide this thing around,” Parker says. “It swims through obstacle courses.”

And the creature displays the rhythmic, undulating motion of a real stingray. Replicating that motion is one of the project’s key accomplishments, says John Dabiri, a professor of engineering at Stanford who worked with Parker on the artificial jellyfish.

To get the ray’s tail to undulate, the team had to come up with a way to trigger muscle cells in sequence. The effect is similar to when the crowd at a ballgame does the wave, Dabiri says.

“You have one group standing up and then the next and then the next. Well, in the case of the muscle here, they’re doing the same thing,” he says. “They’re able to get a certain section of muscle to contract and then the next and then the next.”

That coordinated movement is necessary for many biological functions, like swallowing. It’s also the way the heart beats, with areas contracting in a precise sequence.

Another advance is the ability to activate muscle cells with light rather than electricity, Dabiri says. That allows scientists to control precisely which part of a muscle contracts. So light could act as a sort of pacemaker in an artificial heart that’s made this way.

The artificial stingray is likely to make some people uncomfortable, Dabiri says, because it raises questions about when a machine becomes a living organism.

In this case, the artificial ray pretty clearly isn’t an organism, he says. It can’t grow, adapt or reproduce. But scientists should be considering the possibilities as they pursue other projects like this, he says.

“We want to make sure we think about the ethical issues hand in hand with just asking what we can do,” Dabiri says.

Human Computers (female)

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Meet The ‘Rocket Girls,’ The Women Who Charted The Course To Space

The women of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped launch the first American satellites, lunar missions and planetary explorations. Those "human computers," as they were called, are seen here in 1953.

The women of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped launch the first American satellites, lunar missions and planetary explorations. Those “human computers,” as they were called, are seen here in 1953.  Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the 1940s, an elite team of mathematicians and scientists started working on a project that would carry the U.S. into space, then onto the moon and Mars. They would eventually become NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or JPL), but here’s what made them so unusual: Many of the people who charted the course to space exploration were actually women.

Nathalia Holt tells their story in her new book, Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. Holt tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro that the women worked as “computers.”

“In a time before the digital devices that we’re used to today, it was humans that were doing the calculations,” she says. “And so you needed these teams of people — many of whom were women, especially during World War II — and they were responsible for the math.”

Barbara Paulson was one of those women. She tells Shapiro that while her sisters were preparing to be secretaries, she took a different path. She says, “I had had quite a bit of math in high school. … I know my mother certainly wanted us all to graduate from college, but why I veered off into this … I can’t remember. … But I did, and it helped me get the job that I did get at JPL.”

Rise of the Rocket Girls
Rise of the Rocket Girls  The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Today, Holt says, “There is hardly a mission that you can find in NASA that these women haven’t touched.”


Interview Highlights

On how Holt first learned about the women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab

Holt: In 2010, I was expecting my first child. And my husband and I were just having a terrible time coming up with a name. We finally thought of Eleanor Frances. We googled the name, and the first Eleanor Frances that popped up was a woman named Eleanor Francis Helin. And there was this beautiful picture of her at NASA in the 1960s accepting an award. And I was stunned by this picture because I hadn’t realized that women even worked at NASA at this time, much less as scientists. And so what I found is that there was this group of women who, starting in the 1940s, worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

On tracking down the Jet Propulsion Lab women

Holt: It was quite difficult to track down this group and find their stories. In fact, I think it was over 40 Barbara Paulsons I talked to before I found the right Barbara Paulson. … But when I found the real Barbara Paulson, the one I was searching for, it was so wonderful. And right from the beginning, Barbara had these amazing stories and incredible memory.

On one of the first stories Paulson shared

Holt: I think it has to be the Explorer 1 [satellite]. That has to be right at the beginning. …

Paulson: Well, Explorer 1 was launched Jan. 31, 1958. And that would’ve been after Sputnik had been launched. … I was asked to graph the results coming back from the Explorer 1 satellite. And I worked most of the night, through the night, at JPL with my mechanical pencil and graph paper and light table that I was working on. And that was all the equipment that I had. …

As I look back on so many things, I get more excited now than I did then. But it was exciting. I mean, it was great news that it was … in orbit around the Earth.

On what Holt hopes her book will accomplish

Holt: My hope is that these women serve as role models, not just for my daughter of course, but for all of the women that are interested in science. It’s a difficult time for women in technology right now. In 1984, 37 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science were awarded to women, and today that number has dropped to 18 percent. And even for women that are working in science today, it’s about half of all women that leave mid-career. So I think these stories are important for inspiring and being role models that are so much needed for women today.

Home-Built Roller Coaster

When my brother Tom and I were small boys, a man we understood to be a retired firefighter bought a house in the neighborhood and fitted out his garage as a wood-working shop.

He made a lot of toys and let us watch.  I don’t remember his talking to us at all. One special toy he made for us kids: a roller-coaster in a vacant lot.  Not as elaborate as the one linked here, it was really just a slide about 8 feet high made of rails with a little car and a 20 foot runway.  Lots of fun.

VIDEO

RADIO  Builder tells his story  (“free ride” with other segments including “flying pumpkins”)