New study finds fracking does not contaminate drinking water

The uncertainty of science: A new study, using data from more than 11,000 drinking water wells in northern Pennsylvania, has found no evidence that fracking causes contamination.

The new study of 11,309 drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania concludes that background levels of methane in the water are unrelated to the location of hundreds of oil and gas wells that tap hydraulically fractured, or fracked, rock formations. The finding suggests that fracking operations are not significantly contributing to the leakage of methane from deep rock formations, where oil and gas are extracted, up to the shallower aquifers where well water is drawn.

The result also calls into question prominent studies in 2011 and 2013 that did find a correlation in a nearby part of Pennsylvania. There, wells closer to fracking sites had higher levels of methane. Those studies, however, were based on just 60 and 141 domestic well samples, respectively.

The article outlines in detail the many disagreements and uncertainties of both the old studies and this new one. It also however contains this one key quote about the earlier studies, buried in the text, that illustrates the politics influencing the reporting of the anti-fracking research:

The two papers seemed to show that fracking was leading to increased concentrations of methane in drinking water. Dissolved methane is not toxic, and drinking water often contains significant background levels of the gas from natural sources. [emphasis mine]

The earlier studies were blasted everywhere by the media. They were used to show the harm fracking does, and were the justification for the banning of fracking in New York. Yet, the methane they found was not necessarily caused by fracking, and isn’t even a health concern anyway.

I wonder if the press will give this new report as much coverage. It might not be right, but it sure does indicate that the science is unsettled, and that the risks from fracking are, as usual in these days of doom-saying environmentalism, overblown.

Seed from ancient extinct plant planted and brought back to life

Israeli scientists have successfully gotten a 2000-year-old seed of an extinct date plant to grow and now reproduce.

Methuselah sprouted back in 2005, when agriculture expert Solowey germinated his antique seed. It had been pulled from the remains of Masada, an ancient fortification perched on a rock plateau in southern Israel, and at the time, no one could be sure that the plant would thrive. But he has, and his recent reproductive feat helps prove just how well he’s doing.

For a while, the Judean date palm was the sole representative of his kind: Methuselah’s variety was reportedly wiped out around 500 A.D. But Solowey has continued to grow date palms from ancient seeds discovered in the region, and she tells National Geographic that she is “trying to figure out how to plant an ancient date grove.” Doing so would allow researchers to better understand exactly what earlier peoples of the region were eating and how it tasted.

NASA denies new space station partnership with Russia

NASA officials today denied they were negotiating a partnership with Russia to build a space station replacement for ISS, as suggested yesterday by the head of Russia’s space program.

I am beginning to suspect that the misunderstanding here comes from NASA head Charles Bolden, who is in Russia right now. Knowing Bolden, who is a nice guy who likes to make others happy, he probably said some nice feel-good, kumbaya things to the Russians during conversations with them, things like “We want to keep working together,” and “We will support your plans for your future space station whole-heartedly.” None of this was meant as a commitment, but the Russians might have taken these statements more seriously than Bolden realized.

Iranian defector claims U.S. negotiating for Iran in nuclear weapon talks

Whose side is Obama on? A media aide for the Iranian President has defected, noting as he did so that in the negotiations the U.S. team has mostly been taking Iran’s side.

In his television interview, Mr Mottaghi also gave succour to western critics of the proposed nuclear deal, which has seen the White House pursue a more conciliatory line with Tehran than some of America’s European allies in the negotiating team, comprising the five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany. “The US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal,” he said. [emphasis mine]

Words fail me. Either Obama and Kerry are incredibly naive and incompetent, or they have no loyalty to the U.S. and wish to provide aid and comfort to those who wish to destroy us. In either case the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world are in serious trouble.

Florist fined $1000 in Washington in same-sex refusal case

A Washington judge has issued a $1000 fine to the florist who refused to sell flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom’s order on Friday also bars Stutzman and her Richland shop, Arlene’s Flowers, from offering goods or services to straight couples that aren’t also made available to same-sex couples, the statement said. Stutzman was also required to pay $1 in court fees.

This is is after Stutzman had already rejected a settlement offer of $2,001. Expect her to fight the smaller fine, along with the judge’s order as well.

Note also that the judge could have hit her with far greater sanctions, but did not. I suspect the political heat for this fascist prosecution is being felt by both the judge and the prosecutor who brought the case.

U.S./Russian deal on space cooperation past 2024?

Russian news sources today described a news conference in Russia where it was announced that NASA and Roscosmos have come to an agreement about extending ISS until 2024, establishing common standards for manned vehicles, and to work together on building a new space station to replace ISS after 2024.

It appears that NASA head Charles Bolden is in Russia right now as part of the start of the year-long mission on ISS, and he has negotiated some agreement with Russia. If these reports are accurate, then it means that Russia has decided to work with the U.S. rather than go it alone on their next station.

All this assumes that future presidents and Congress agree with this proposal, a very big assumption indeed.

Republicans pass the first budget resolution in six years

For the first time in six years both Houses of Congress, now controlled by the Republicans, passed budget resolutions outlining their plan for the 2016 budget.

The Senate and House plans still have to be reconciled. Also, they call for eventually balancing the budget in 10 years, hardly my idea of good fiscal policy, though certainly an improvement from past budget battles.

The most important aspect of this however is this fine detail:

In addition to aiming to eliminate deficits within 10 years, both documents seek to ease the path for a repeal or replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law. … [D]ifferences between the two documents still need to be worked out and a combined budget passed next month by both chambers. Doing so would allow Republicans to invoke parliamentary rules to repeal “Obamacare” with a simple majority in the Senate rather than a tough-to-achieve 60 vote threshold.

In other words, the Republicans have set the situation up where they can use reconciliation to pass an Obamacare repeal, the exact same legislative sleight-of-hand that the Democrats used to pass Obamacare in 2010.

No one in favor of shrinking the power of the federal government and its budget should be too enthused by this budget, however. All it is is a start. Or as Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

What we have now running Congress is a Republican leadership that wants to balance the budget in as painless a way as possible, so they will not upset any of the DC bureaucratic special interest groups, including the leftwing press. What we will eventually need is a Congress being run by people who don’t care if that DC bureaucracy and its water-carriers in the press get upset, and instead acts to make the rest of the country happy. We are moving in that direction, but we have a long way to go to get there.

Obama about to make deal with Iran

Whose side is Obama on? Kerry today informed the Israel government that the U.S. and Iran are close to a deal that Israel calls “incomprehensibly” bad and will do nothing to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Earlier Friday, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the terms of the looming agreement were “incomprehensibly” bad and rejected the Obama administration’s contention that it would keep the regime a year away from accumulating enough fissile material for a bomb.

Estimating that a framework deal would indeed be signed soon, and that a full agreement would follow in June, this official lamented the US-led negotiators’ apparent readiness to remove sanctions without Iran being required to halt its global terrorist activities, and listed a host of areas in which Tehran was working against American, Israeli and moderate Arab interests without being made to pay a price. “The deal is bad because of its readiness to remove sanctions without any American demand from Iran to stop the terror,” the official said. “I estimate that we will have a framework deal soon, and after that a full agreement in June. This is incomprehensible.” [emphasis mine]

The interesting thing here is that both parties in Congress have express loud opposition to this deal and have voted repeatedly to continue sanctions against Iran.

NASA cuts Opportunity and LRO from budget

The 2016 budget proposed by NASA shuts down continued operation of either the Mars rover Opportunity or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

As the article notes, both these missions continue to provide us a great deal of scientific bang for the buck. To shut them down, only to spend far more later to replace them, seems incredibly stupid.

A photo tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Yesterday, as part of my visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to give a space history lecture to the local section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, I was given a short tour of these west coast launch facilities. While Kennedy is used for launches that circle the equator, Vandenberg, with its southern-facing coast, launches rockets that head south over the ocean for a polar orbit.

We only had time to go inside one launchpad, where unfortunately I was not permitted to take pictures. However, the images I did get will give you a reasonable sense of the layout for this spaceport, which is increasingly becoming a spaceport for private launch companies like ULA and SpaceX. Though the bulk of business for both companies here might be military and government payloads, the future is still going to include a lot of private payloads. The images also help to highlight the differences between these two companies, as well as some past history, as one of these launchpads was once intended for the space shuttle, though never used for that purpose.
» Read more

UN finds that only Israel violates women’s rights

Time to pull out of the UN: The women’s rights panel of the United Nations has declared that only one nation in the entire world oppresses women, and that nation is Israel.

As the article notes, this UN propaganda panel for attacking Israel somehow couldn’t notice any abuse in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and China, all of which have clearly known policies that persecute women in the worst ways.

Why we keep funding this travesty only suggests to me that our elected leaders approve of this and want to see Israel attacked while letting the real persecutors get away with it.

Air Force subsidies to ULA to end

The competition heats up: Because it has concluded that they make it impossible to have a fair competition for contracts, the Air Force has decided to phase out the subsidies it has been paying to the United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The specific amounts of these subsidies have been effectively buried by the Air Force in many different contracts, so we the taxpayers really don’t know how much the are.

Nonetheless, this decision, combined with the military report released yesterday that criticized the Air Force’s over-bearing and restrictive certification process with SpaceX indicates that the political pressure is now pushing them hard to open up bidding to multiple companies, which in turn will help lower cost and save the taxpayer money.

How scientists are using the Kelly twins during Scott Kelly’s year-long mission to ISS to learn how weightlessness effects the human body

Link here. Scott Kelly launches today to the station to begin the flight.

The article’s headline and initial focus on how the Kellys’ privacy rights might interfere with the research seems inappropriate. It is as if the author and Nature wanted to spin the story to force the Kellys to reveal private medical data they would prefer to keep private.

The real story the article tells is that an incredible wealth of knowledge about microgravity will be gained by this flight, because the Kellys are both participating. And depending on what is learned when their entire genomes are sequenced, we might also be able to study that fully as well.

Air Force demanded too much in its SpaceX certification process

In the heat of competition: A military review of the Air Force’s certification process of SpaceX has found that the Air Force has demanded far more changes from the company than were justified or proper.

The report, prepared by former Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch, said the Air Force treated the process like a detailed design review, dictating changes in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and even the company’s organizational structure. That approach resulted in over 400 issues that needed to be resolved, which was “counterproductive” to a national policy aimed at encouraging competition in the sector.


In fact, the process was intended to show that SpaceX met overall requirements to launch military satellites, not carry out the more detailed review required for each launch on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The review also concluded that SpaceX was too resistent to any proposed changes.

SpaceX might have been too resistent, but this report confirms my suspiciion that the Air Force purposely created hoops for SpaceX to jump through because the Air Force really didn’t want to have to deal with SpaceX and wanted to make it too difficult for them to be approved.

Dark matter is even more of a mystery that expected

The uncertainty of science: Using the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes astronomers have discovered that dark matter is not only invisible to direct observation, it is invisible to itself!

In this new research, Harvey and his team realized just how invisible this stuff is, even to itself. As two galactic clusters collide, the stars, gas and dark matter interact in different ways. The clouds of gas suffer drag, slow down and often stop, whereas the stars zip past one another, unless they collide — which is rare. On studying what happens to dark matter during these collisions, the researchers realized that, like stars, the colliding clouds of dark matter have little effect on one another.

Thought to be spread evenly throughout each cluster, it seems logical to assume that the clouds of dark matter would have a strong interaction — much like the colliding clouds of gas as the colliding dark matter particles should come into very close proximity. But rather than creating drag, the dark matter clouds slide through one another seamlessly.

I guarantee that this result is not definitive. The data here is on the very edge of reality, built on too many assumptions. We know that something undetected as yet is influencing the motions of galaxies, but what exactly it is remains completely unknown. These results only make the mystery more mysterious.

Stay tuned for photo tour of Vandenberg

I am presently at Santa Barbara Airport waiting for my flight home to Tucson after spending the day at Vandenberg Air Force Base. After Steve and Jessica Tullino of the Vandenberg Section of the AIAA gave me a tour of the base, including a close look at one launchpad, I then was their speaker at their section’s luncheon meeting.

Anyway, I took a bunch of pictures and plan to post these sometime tonight or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

GAO denied access to Webb telescope workers by Northrop Grumman

In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process.

To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. That’s a billion increase since the last time I heard NASA discuss Webb. If the project was “back on track: as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, than why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?

NASA has decided to grab an asteroid rock rather than bag an asteroid

Rather than try to bag an entire small asteroid with an unmanned probe and bring that back to Earth, NASA has decided to send an unmanned probe into orbit around an asteroid and use it to grab one of the asteroid’s boulders.

The $1.25 billion mission, which is planned to launch in December 2020, would send a robotic spacecraft for a rendezvous with an asteroid in 2022. After touching down on the asteroid’s surface, the spacecraft would snatch a boulder several meters across. The spacecraft would then orbit the asteroid for up to 400 days, testing out an idea for defending Earth from a catastrophic asteroid impact: using the spacecraft’s own gravitational field to subtly alter the asteroid’s orbit. Next, the spacecraft would bring the snatched rock back to Earth’s vicinity in 2025. Finally, as part of preparations for a possible mission to Mars, astronauts would visit and examine the rock for some 25 days, using the planned Orion spacecraft to make the trip.

From both a science perspective as well as a manned space perspective, the unmanned part of this plan is a very good idea. Whether it will get funded depends upon Congress, since its roots go back to President Obama’s April 2010 commitment to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. Such a commitment was never really realistic, so it has devolved to capturing a rock and sending astronauts to visit it, thus meeting Obama’s commitment in a Potemkin Village sort of way.

Much better to bring the rock back to Earth orbit where it can be captured and brought to ISS by any number of vehicles and studied there. Whether Congress will fund this in the manner proposed in order to help Obama meet his commitment however remains very doubtful.

Posted from Santa Barbara, California.

A drastic drop in complaints immediately after San Diego outfitted its police with body cameras

Surprise, surprise! Immediately after San Diego outfitted its police force with 600 body camera the number of complaints plunged.

The report, which took one full year into account, found that complaints against police have fallen 40.5 percent and use of “personal body” force by officers has been reduced by 46.5 percent. Use of pepper spray has decreased by 30.5 percent.

Two benefits can be seen immediately. First, the police are being harassed less from false complaints. Second, and more important, the police are finding ways to settle most disputes without the use of force, which means they are abusing their authority less.

These statistics do confirm what many on both the right and the left have begun to believe in recent years, that the police have been almost certainly using force against citizens inappropriately too often. In San Diego at least the cameras are serving to stem this misuse of authority.

Posted from Tucson International Airport, on my way to Vandenberg to get a tour and give a lecture.

College punishes students for sexist chanting at party, even those not there

Fascists: The University of Mary Washington has punished its entire rugby team of 46 because 8 attended a party where some had participated in “sexist chanting.”

The microaggression unfolded last November at a house party near the Fredericksburg, Virginia, campus, according to Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan. Some students, likely drunk, sang a demeaning song about raping corpses and “wiggling it” inside whores—inappropriate stuff, to be sure, though not really targeted at a specific entity in a threatening way. The chant apparently has its origins in rowdy “pub” songs. It’s a curious tradition, though not one intended to inspire actual malice, it seems.

But someone at the party recorded the chant; eventually, UMW’s Feminists United on Campus found out about it and made sure university administrators were informed. This led to an investigation, and eventually, the end of the rugby team. The location of the party was said to be a “rugby house”—even though only two members of the team actually lived there—and so the entire team had to pay the price.

First of all, the chanting, as ugly as it might have been, is perfectly legal under the first amendment. Not only was it merely speech, it took place off campus in a private residence, where the college has limited jurisdiction.

Second, what kind of justice is it for the college to punish all the members of the rugby team when only a few even attended the party? Even if it had to right to do so (which I question), punishing innocent third parties is beyond Stalinistic.

Survey shows Obamacare reduced worker hours

Finding out what’s in it: A survey of businesses has found that employers have reduced employee work hours significantly to avoid Obamacare.

A new survey by the Society of Human Resource Management released Tuesday found about 14 percent of businesses have reduced part-time hours and another 6 percent plan to do so. Employers are reducing hours to avoid Obamacare’s employer mandate, which requires companies to provide health insurance to all workers that work 30 or more hours a week. In addition, 5 percent of companies already reduced or plan to reduce the total number of employees.

Believe me, this is only the start. Essentially, Obamacare makes it difficult if not impossible to make a profit.

Republicans criticize Obama administration for program attacking legal businesses

Fascists: At House hearings yesterday Republican congressmen attacked the FDIC for creating a program that encouraged banks to cease any dealings with businesses the Obama administration happened to dislike.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) called on a top banking regulator to fire top employees or step down himself after certain businesses saw their accounts shuttered as part of a government program known as “Operation Choke Point.” Banking regulators have since walked back guidance that was interpreted by some as calling for banks to halt operations with entire types of businesses, but GOP lawmakers say regulators that pushed that notion still need to be held accountable. “I fear that activists at the Department of Justice and [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] are abusing their power and authority,” said Duffy. “They’re weaponizing government to meet their ideological beliefs.”

Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told lawmakers Tuesday that bank examiners had misinterpreted regulatory guidance to suggest that entire categories of businesses should be barred from traditional banking services. He said earlier guidance outlining high-risk areas had been “misunderstood,” leading examiners to believe that banks should not be providing services to certain types of businesses, like payday lenders and firearms dealers. [emphasis mine]

The FDIC simply decided that certain legal businesses, specifically businesses liberals in the Obama administration were strongly hostile to, should be barred from access to banks. They weren’t illegal. They simply were disliked by liberals. The result was that many of these businesses were forced to shut down.

This quote best illustrates who was and continues to be willing to use the power of government to attack legal businesses they happen to dislike:

But Duffy accused Gruenberg of “slow walking” the matter, having failed to punish FDIC employees that pushed banks to cut services with certain industries. He went so far as to suggest that if Gruenberg did not punish those employees, he should step down as chief regulator. “I don’t think you want to hold them accountable,” said Duffy. “If you can’t go after the problem in the FDIC…you have no place as the chairman.”

For their part, Democrats largely defended the FDIC as attempting to properly implement policy and protect the banking sector.

So, the Democrats think it’s a good idea. Interestingly, Democrats took an almost identical position in regards to the IRS harassment of conservatives. To me, it seems kind of fascist. But who am I to say?

Rosetta makes the first detection of nitrogen at a comet

Rosetta has made the first detection of molecular nitrogen in the coma of Comet 67P/C-G.

The in situ detection of molecular nitrogen has long been sought at a comet. Nitrogen had only previously been detected bound up in other compounds, including hydrogen cyanide and ammonia, for example. Its detection is particularly important since molecular nitrogen is thought to have been the most common type of nitrogen available when the Solar System was forming. In the colder outer regions, it likely provided the main source of nitrogen that was incorporated into the gas planets. It also dominates the dense atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, and is present in the atmospheres and surface ices on Pluto and Neptune’s moon Triton.

It is in these cold outer reaches of our Solar System in which the family of comets that includes Rosetta’s comet is believed to have formed.

1 2 3 404