Scientists map safe locations for wastewater injection in Texas and Oklahoma


Jens-Erik Lund Snee

Stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma, with black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression.

❝ Stanford geophysicists have compiled the most detailed maps yet of the geologic forces controlling the locations, types and magnitudes of earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma.

These new “stress maps…provide insight into the nature of the faults associated with recent temblors, many of which appear to have been triggered by the injection of wastewater deep underground…

❝ To create these stress maps, Mark Zoback and his graduate students Jens-Erik Lund Snee and Richard Alt interpreted data from different parts of Texas and Oklahoma donated by oil and gas companies…

When combined with information about the faults present in a given area, the scientists were able to assess which faults are likely to be problematic and why. In the areas where induced earthquakes have occurred in Texas and Oklahoma, the Stanford scientists show that a relatively small increase of pore pressure – the pressure of fluids within the fractures and cavities of rocks – would have been sufficient to trigger slip…

❝ In a related paper…graduate student F. Rall Walsh and Zoback present a methodology for assessing which faults are susceptible for earthquake triggering and which are not.

❝ The Stanford scientists also found that many of the recent earthquakes in Texas that have been suspected as being triggered by wastewater injection occurred on faults that – according to the new map – have orientations that are nearly ideal for producing earthquakes. Hence, doing this kind of study in advance of planned injection activities could be very helpful.

Useful, that is within the context of oil and gas well drillers actually making use of this information. Unless attitudes have changed greatly from the days when I was involved with that industry – I don’t expect much of a response to this study. This is an industry concerned, first and last, with easy profits, comparatively cheap costs – even when they don’t seem that way to mere mortals who worry about household budgets and even the occasional mid-strength earthquake.

Example: I got a call one sunny autumn morning in New Orleans from a Texas driller – in Dubai. Doesn’t matter what broke on what machinery. He had to stop work.

He told me he’d already spoken to one of our warehousemen and parts were now waiting outside the front door of my office in a taxi. Waiting for me to accompany them to New Orleans International Airport. I walked downstairs and got in the cab. At the airport I picked up the few boxes of parts and walked to the tarmac next to the air freight terminal. There was a full-size Boeing air freighter waiting and I placed the boxes inside an open doorway along with appropriate paperwork. The hatch closed. The jet took off headed for Dubai. No other cargo on board besides the $300 worth of parts I’d delivered.

Part of the cost of doing business. To be passed along to consumers.

All 2016 American Nobel laureates are immigrants

❝ In a year in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is proposing a crackdown on immigration, all six of the 2016 American Nobel laureates announced to date are immigrants.

“I think the resounding message that should go out all around the world is that science is global,” Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, one of three laureates in chemistry…Stoddart, born in Scotland, credited American openness with bringing top scientists to the country. He added, however, that the American scientific establishment will only remain strong “as long as we don’t enter an era where we turn our back on immigration.”

Stoddart said the United States should be “welcoming people from all over the world, including the Middle East…”

❝ Duncan Haldane, the English Princeton University researcher who won the prize for physics, described the immigration process as a “bureaucratic nightmare for many people” in an interview with The Hill.

The prize in physics was awarded to three British immigrants, Haldane, David Thouless of Yale University and Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University.

❝ Despite procedural challenges, the scientists believe the American educational system will continue attracting researchers from all over the world…

Haldane said top scientists come to the United States because of its research-friendly funding system.

“There’s a tradition of funding very fundamental research without regard for it being ‘useful,’” said Haldane.

❝ The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Oliver Hart of Harvard University and Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, British and Finnish immigrants, respectively.

I wonder if Trump sheeple follow their master’s contempt for reading and facts. He says he learns everything from watching TV – mostly Fox News. Facts about American immigrants get scant coverage in the world of “fair and balanced” sophistry.

Funding ban on human-animal hybrids ended

pigotaur
Pigotaur

Should the U.S. government use tax dollars to fund scientists fusing human stem cells into early animal embryos in order to create “chimeras” that are part human and part pig? Or part mouse?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health says the answer is yes. The agency announced Thursday that it plans to lift a moratorium that since last year has blocked taxpayers’ money from flowing to this type of hot-button research.

Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for policy, said experiments to inject human stem cells into early-stage animal embryos “are really important and exciting to understand how disease works” and to explore new medical treatments.

At the same time, the agency is proposing stricter controls on certain experiments most likely to lead to monkey-men or other bad science fiction…

And bad science fiction it would be. Unless requisite technology becomes as cheap as, say, drones from a big-box electronics chain, no for-real scientist is going to waste a chunk of their budget on “thrilling” experiments capable of attracting Sharknado movie producers or the religion police.

Human-animal mixtures aren’t new. Wolinetz noted in a statement that biomedical researchers “have created and used animal models containing human cells for decades” to gain insights into biology and disease. Scientists often grow human tumors inside of mice, for example.

But the new research is different, because potent human stem cells are being injected directly into a very early-stage animal embryo, consisting of just a couple of dozen cells. Theoretically, the human cells could then end up contributing to any part of the animal, and in any amount…

What’s the point of such experiments? One is that it might be possible to create an otherwise normal pig whose entire heart—or whole liver—is made from human cells. That would create a new way to farm human organs for transplant.

The issue was clearly a delicate one for the NIH, which was caught between advancing science and a possible political bombshell that could lead to public backlash. The agency said it would form a special committee to oversee funding of these human-animal mixtures—a move that could raise questions over political interference in science.

Pretty much every other nation capable of such research has already marched forward past the artificial political boundaries constructed by religion in the United States. Even if we avoid the short-term political limits appropriate to clown show politicians like George W or Donald Trump, our world-class scientific institutions and universities have to confront both federal and state limits put in place by legislators in mortal fear of know-nothing voters. Every day, every month, every year.

Know-Nothing Congress roadblocks US policy on mitochondrial therapy

Scientists believe they can now remove disease-causing mitochondrial DNA from human embryos, providing new cures for previously untreatable conditions, but the policy signals coming from Washington DC are in stark contradiction, according to a new Viewpoint essay published in JAMA.

On Feb. 3, 2016, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies issued a report on mitochondrial replacement therapy commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration. The division recommended that under certain conditions, MRT clinical trials should be allowed to proceed. But just six weeks before, President Obama signed an appropriations bill that included a bit of language essentially forbidding those trials…

❝ “One big step forward was taken by the IOM report when it concluded that it is “ethically permissible” to embark on first-in-human clinical trials of MRT subject to rigorous safety and efficacy imperatives,” wrote Dr. Eli Adashi…and I. Glenn Cohen…“However, two steps back were taken with the enactment of a policy rider which precludes the FDA from further consideration of MRT…”

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, the government has approved MRT clinical trials and some might begin this year. But despite the National Academies recommending a similar advance to the FDA, legislation has left U.S. policy at a standstill, wrote Adashi and Cohen.

Whether or not the eventual births of disease-free children in the UK will change congressional hearts and minds remains to be seen,” they wrote. “Failing such, progress in the prevention of mitochondrial DNA diseases will remain the domain of a biomedical enterprise an ocean away.”

The same ignoranus mindset George W Bush brought to US government is alive and well in a Congress governed by shortsighted and foolish conservatives, embraced by Republicans, Tea Party Trumpkins and Blue Dog Democrats. American voters may never learn to vote in their own economic and social interest; but, you’d think they’d eventually figure out that passing laws that help your children to die really ain’t too bright.

X-Ray research on fried potatoes to make them tastier


Tamara Evans

When I’m waiting for my dinner to finish cooking, I can’t say I often think about how the way I fry it is changing the food’s microstructure. But after sifting through a paper recently published in the Journal of Food Science that explores the microstructure of “fried potato disks”, I might just.

The study was conducted by Tanjila Alam and Pawan S. Takhar from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In it, they cut russet potatoes into tiny 45-millimeter diameter, 1.65-millimeter thick disks and then deep fried them in soybean oil. So, think of them as little crispy potato chips for science. The potato samples were fried in 190 degrees Celsius oil for 0, 20, 40, 60, or 80 seconds.

After that, the fried potatoes were subjected to X-ray micro-computed tomography, which creates a micro 3D image of the sample without destroying it. The idea here, is to see how frying the potato affects its porosity, the twistiness (“tortuosity”) of the paths connecting the pores, and how much oil the chip takes in, which eventually could help us make better fried foods…

In this study, the researchers found that the longer the potato was fried, the more the pore size and number of pores increased, which helped the potatoes to take on more oil. The chips that were fried for longer also had less twisty pathways between pores, which corresponds to having better oil uptake.

Scientists aren’t just interested in fried potatoes, the paper notes. In 2011, researchers put chicken nuggets to a similar test, dying the oil blue and using a confocal microscope to trace oil and pore distribution through the deep fried delicacy. Yum!

Too bad the study only addresses one of America’s favorite food groups – fat. They left out sugar, salt and crap beer.

The oil Patch Boys have known about climate change since the 1980s

Just months after the New York attorney general launched an investigation into oil giant ExxonMobil over allegations that it misled investors about climate change, a newly surfaced report suggests the oil industry’s largest trade group may have had early, detailed knowledge of climate change as well.

In 1982, the American Petroleum Institute commissioned a report from scientists at Columbia University that predicted destructive global warming and linked it to fossil fuel use, according to the nonprofit InsideClimate News, which received a copy of the original report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

One year after the trade association received the report, API disbanded the task force it had set up to monitor climate change research, according to InsideClimate News. API then launched a multimillion-dollar campaign in the 1990s to persuade the public that the science around climate change was “uncertain…”

The Columbia researchers who prepared the report for API predicted global temperatures would rise by up to 4 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years. A 4-degree increase would likely have devastating effects on the planet, including widespread species loss, increased food insecurity, stronger storms and more severe coastal flooding, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Columbia report also said the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “is expected to double some time in the [21st] century. Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels…”

Instead of cleaning up its act, Exxon waged a $16 million campaign in the 1990s to block proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and to persuade the public that climate science was unreliable…It became clear in December that several major oil companies affiliated with API had early knowledge of climate change. The newly surfaced report obtained by InsideClimate News shows that the information about global warming available to members of the trade group was detailed and clearly outlined the risks of emitting large volumes of CO2…

The campaign of political disinformation continues. Even if most of the educated world understands the sum of scientific investigation into climate change there are enough willing dodos committed to being foot soldiers for any conservative cause. Self-interest is limited to a pat on the head from the boss – just as it always has. Care and concern for the planet and life on it – doesn’t raise the least interest among the nutball lobby, some paid, some volunteers. The creeps who pick up the tab are the same corporate executives who have been at it for decades.

We’re just getting a clearer picture is all.

Our middle class dwindles to less than the sum of the rich + the poor

In the age of rising income inequality, the task of preserving America’s middle class has been taken on by politicians across the ideological spectrum. A new report from Pew Research Center shows just how much the economic fortunes of this group have changed since the 1970s.

In every decade since then, the percentage of adults living in middle-income households has fallen, according to Pew, which is based in Washington. The share now stands at 50 percent, compared with 61 percent in 1971…

Our politicians have accomplished nothing other than gifting the nation to the rich.

Being a member of the middle-class has long been treated as an American badge of honor. However middle-income households have lost their majority status in the U.S, with the size of their counterparts on opposite ends of the income spectrum overtaking them in number.

Some 120.8 million adult Americans lived in middle-class households this year, according to Pew. That’s slightly less than the combined number of upper-income adults – 51 million – and those at the lower tier – 70.3 million…

Blacks are less likely to be part of the middle class than any other racial or ethnic group, the Pew report finds. Some 45 percent of black adults were in the middle-income tier, down 1 percentage point from 1971.

One positive note is that blacks are the only major racial group to see a decline over that time frame in their share of adults who are low-income, which is down to 43 percent from 48 percent. Still, that percentage is the highest of the ethnic groups, alongside Hispanics.

White Americans are the only racial group where a majority is in the middle class, though their share fell to 52 percent this year from 63 percent in 1971.

Almost half of aggregate earnings in the U.S. is now commanded by the wealthiest families, who are “are on the verge of holding more in total income than all other households combined,” Kochhar and Fry wrote.

The Republicans barely give lip service to this question. Unwilling to risk offending the class of owners they obey on every issue.

Many Democrats are merely cowards. Those willing to fight for us know the fight starts with their peers.

Yes, I know the characterizations are too much shorthand. But, when push comes to shove on any truly critical issue – whether it be war and peace, guns and butter, education and tax breaks for the rich – the fine gradations that give job security to TV talking heads and Wall Street analysts alike break down. Almost no one is willing to commit to the class of the many Americans who create and build the wealth of the few.

NASA website hosts regularly updated Earth imagery


Click to enlarge

NASA has launched a new website allowing the public to view images snapped by its Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. The service will provide multiple shots of stunning Earth imagery seven days a week, mere hours after capture.

DSCOVR is operated through a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Air Force, with a mission to monitor space weather emanating from the Sun, and serve as a form of early warning system for potentially harmful events…

Images featured on the website are captured roughly 12 – 36 hours prior to release, and feature a simple graphic to the top left of the page informing users of the relative positions and distances of the DSCOVR satellite and our Sun. The page also displays a globe highlighting the landmasses that are in view.

Archived images will be accessible by searching for the subject’s capture date and the continents displayed in the image.

Sometimes the Web really brings you close to the beauty of science.

The US “leads” the solar energy revolution by laying off solar energy researchers

On Monday, Oct. 5, Stuart Farrell had planned to take the morning off from his job as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., after being awake all night taking care of his sick 2-year-old son. But at 10:30 a.m., he received a call asking him to come in for an 11:30 meeting…

Farrell, who had worked in solar energy research at the laboratory for two and a half years, was one of 15 solar research staff members laid off that day due to federal funding cuts, according to NREL public affairs manager George Douglas. And another 40 to 60 staff members are expected to be lost through a voluntary separation program that the lab will initiate on Oct. 12.

Almost all of the researchers already laid off were involved in “next generation,” or long-term, solar research, Douglas said. Farrell’s work, for instance, involved research on improving the efficiency of cadmium telluride solar cells.

It’s the latest sign of a trend that experts say is undermining U.S. efforts to promote alternative energy: Federal funding for solar energy research has declined steadily over the past several years, despite emphasis from the Obama administration on continued investment in research and development of clean energy technologies. These cuts have affected the federal solar program at large, not just solar research at NREL…

“NREL is actually one of the smallest of the national laboratories, and I think it’s been one that has had one of the largest impacts of any of the national laboratories,” said Al Compaan, president and CTO of Lucintech, a company involved in the development of photovoltaic modules. “I’m particularly pained to see any further cuts in funding [to NREL].” For instance, support from NREL was integral to the success of photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar, which Compaan referred to as “one of the bright shining stars in the success of federal government support for solar energy.”…

Yet the budget appropriations have fallen short of the requests over the past few years, and applied research, particularly on long-term, forward-looking technologies like the project Farrell was involved with at NREL, has been one of the areas to suffer. The reasons for the funding cuts could be tied to budget sequestration, or limits on the size of the federal budget, which can force spending cuts in certain areas in order to bring the total budget down…

Despite these reductions, solar energy itself has continued to expand and contribute to decarbonization in the U.S., at least partly thanks to the importation of solar modules from other nations, particularly China. The U.S. market share in photovoltaic manufacturing has dropped significantly since the late 90s, and China has become the major source of module shipments over the past five years…

Jobs, jobs, jobs – the mantra of political hacks from both parties. But, as long as the government is run by an amalgamation of reactionaries and cowards the inevitability of change continues to be driven by the nations with a real dedication to alternative energy.

President Obama can blather all he wants at press conferences celebrating his joint energy and environment agreements with President Xi. At the rate we’re going the only American jobs flowing from the solar revolution will be as installers. Manufacturing for domestic consumption – much less export – will continue to diminish in a nation that would rather dedicate research to new and exciting weapons of mass destruction.

Our politicians take Americans another step backwards – bowing to the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel empire.