Last year, forest fires in central Chile wreaked havoc in the El Maule region with more than 100 different wildfires sweeping through the area and destroying over a million acres of forest land. It was the worst wildfire season in the country’s history, taking several lives and created an estimated $333 million of dollars worth of damages. The animals were forced to flee to safer areas.
The job to replant endless acres of forests seemed like a daunting endeavor. That is until three unusual workers took up the task. Six-year-old Das and her two daughters, Olivia and Summer are three Border Collies who have been trained to run through the damaged forests with special backpacks that release native plant seeds. Once they take root, these seeds will help regrow the destroyed area.
It turns out that Border Collies are an ideal breed for this specific type of job. Bounding through miles of forest terrain requires not only speed, intelligence, and endurance, but also a willingness to stay focused and not get distracted by wildlife. Border Collies were bred to herd sheep, so they’re not as likely to run after or hurt other animals in the forest.
The sisters who own and train the dogs, Francisca and Constanza Torres, say the furry trio have a fun time jumping and bounding through nature. Francisca, told Mother Nature Network, “They reeeeeally love [it]!! It’s a country trip, where they can run as fast as they can and have a great time.”
This system is also more efficient than having people spread the seeds manually. These speedy canines can race through a forest and cover up to 18 miles a day. Humans, on the other hand, can only cover a few miles each day. These pups can scatter over 20 pounds of seeds, depending on the terrain. While robots or drones might be able to disperse seeds too, dogs aren’t as pricey to handle. Most importantly, they leave a lighter carbon footprint.
Francisca and Constanza put special backpacks on the dogs, fill them with native seeds and then it’s off to the races. Once the dogs have emptied out their bags, Francisca and Constanza give them plenty of treats, refill their bags, and release them again to dash around the destroyed forest, sprinkling more seeds in their wake. The end goal of all this, of course, is to restore the damaged ecosystem and have the wildlife return to the forests.
For Francisca, bringing trained dogs into the forest made sense. She runs a dog training facility and community called Pewos. While they receive some donations, she and Constanza pay for most of the seeds, supplies, and transportation themselves. Despite the hard work, their labor of love is already paying off.
According to Mother Nature Network, Francisca said, “We have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest!” While the dogs have already worked in 15 forests in the El Maule region, Francisca and Constanza plan to keep spreading seeds to bring back the forests with the canine trio.
Study says drilling can increase risks of short-term health problems under worst-case scenarios.
Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a pharmacist and organic farmer from unincorporated Boulder County, said she can see oil and gas companies burning off excess gas into the air across the county line.
“You can smell it. You get a burning sensation,” Jaquez Lewis told The Colorado Independent.
She suspects the emissions from these oil and gas operations have caused the nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and respiratory issues her neighbors experience. Some have had their blood tested to find high levels of toxic chemicals, such as benzene, she said.
Residents living atop Colorado’s reserves of oil and gas have for years contacted state health officials to report these ailments. And now, a study published Thursday further bolsters what they have long argued: Living near oil and gas drilling could put their health at risk.
The $600,000 study conducted by the consulting firm ICF International showed people living within 2,000 feet of oil and gas drilling could be exposed to short-term health risks under worst-case scenario conditions, such as in the early stages of drilling when emissions are highest or when the wind blows toward a home.
The study estimated the risk and potential health impacts of exposures based on emissions data. The estimates are used to predict, or “model,” how pollutants might move through air.
Oil and gas operations emit volatile organic compounds, including benzene, a known human carcinogen. The study found cancer risks fall within acceptable federal exposure limits.
In response to the peer-reviewed, 380-page study, which former Gov. John Hickenlooper commissioned, state health officials and oil and gas regulators said more monitoring is needed to determine a causal relationship between exposure to oil and gas emissions and health impacts. A key limitation, state officials said, is that the study used data dating back to 2014, prior to Colorado’s adoption of limits on methane emissions. The study also did not measure health impacts near multiple well pads.
“The study indicated the possibility for short-term health impacts,” Jeff Robbins, the director for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told reporters in Denver Thursday. “We will undertake efforts to determine causation.”
Robbins said he would put in place “stricter review measures” for all drilling location permit applications that fall within 2,000 feet of an occupied structure. Robbins also wants to ramp up monitoring of current drilling activity to test emissions.
Regulators made clear that they do not plan to halt drilling in light of the new study. In the near term, it remains unclear what will change for residents living near oil and gas operations.
“I think today’s study is at least an acknowledgment by the state of what people living with oil and gas already knew,” said Sara Loflin, the executive director for the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Citizens (LOGIC), a nonprofit organization representing residents near oil and gas drilling.
In 2018, residents filed 548 complaints over drilling near their homes, citing noise, odor and air quality concerns, according to state data. There are more than 53,000 active wells in Colorado, and the state has approved more than 1,800 drilling permits so far this year.
Several environmental groups have been advocating for a drilling permit timeout until the state updates its rules for issuing permits to reflect new protections for public health, safety, welfare and the environment, as required by Senate Bill 181, which was signed into law in April. The rulemaking process is expected to take until the summer of 2020.
In light of the report, Colorado Rising, the Sierra Club and Earthworks called for drilling permits to be put on hold.
“If more research is needed to determine the level of harm how can Jeff Robbins ensure new permits are ‘sufficiently protective?’” Anne Lee Foster, communications for Colorado Rising, said in a statement. “This study also highlights the insufficiencies of oversight and enforcement of oil and gas extraction in Colorado.”
Lawmakers who wrote Senate Bill 181 responded to the study by calling for more monitoring and studies.
“This new CDPHE study is valuable, but what we really need is a comprehensive epidemiological study that looks at real health impacts on real people who live near oil and gas wells,” said Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder.
Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers, including Fenberg and Jaquez Lewis, want to see permits that fall within 2,000 feet of a home delayed until new rules for permitting are completed.
Jaquez Lewis stopped short of calling for greater setbacks.
“I think many of us are watching this issue closely and waiting to see the final rulemaking. Then we will be making some final decisions,” she said.
That neither lawmakers nor state officials pitched the possibility of increasing the state’s current setbacks for drilling rigs, currently at 500 feet from occupied buildings, speaks to how politically dicey the subject is. The industry touts its $30 billion contribution to the state’s economy.
Environmental groups attempted in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to pass ballot measures to increase setbacks up to 2,500 feet. All were voted down. Protect Colorado, an industry-backed political campaign committee, has spent about $60 million on advertisements and messaging in order to defeat the measures.
Such an outcome at the ballot box has likely spoiled any prospects of lawmakers passing setbacks at the state Capitol anytime soon. When lawmakers were writing new oil and gas laws earlier this year, oil and gas representatives said they were usurping the will of voters.
The study is a follow up to a 2017 health impacts study that concluded there is a low risk of harmful health impacts when living more than 500 feet from a well. That study was not peer-reviewed.
A separate 2018 peer-reviewed study by researchers with Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found that people living in the Front Range within 500 feet of an oil and gas were at risk of cancer. When lawmakers were hearing testimony on Senate Bill 181, a representative of an oil and gas trade group cast doubt on the 2018 study, criticizing its sample size.
The oil and gas industry likewise has concerns about the study published Thursday. Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said the group will evaluate the results.
“Thorough review of existing scientific research shows that the current, robust standards and stringent state and federal regulations are in place to protect public health,” Granger said. “Using modeled exposures instead of measured air quality data introduces uncertainties and limitations that may result in erroneous estimates of risk for a population.”