Energy independence, crazy ants and moths

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“We must strive to become energy independent,” is the mantra repeated over and over by the titans of fossil fuel extraction companies. “Drill, baby, drill,” “Frack, baby, frack,” “Mine, baby, mine, and remove the tops of the Appalachian Mountains to get the underlying coal,” and “Open the National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, Arctic seas, and offshore ocean floors to exploit the energy resources beneath them, if that is what it takes,” are the sermons preached incessantly by the titans and by their bought-and-paid for political stooges.

Let’s examine just how dedicated the titans are to attaining energy independence. In 2011 oil companies exported an average of 2.9 million gallons per day of petroleum-based fuels from U.S. refineries. The sources of the petroleum were from domestic wells and from imports, mostly from Canada and Mexico. In 2012, exports of U.S. mined coal reached a record high of 126 million tons.

The controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing of shale containing natural gas, “fracking,” has yielded an enormous quantity of the gas, and we no longer have to depend on imports of liquified natural gas (LNG) to meet our needs. The lead editorial in the May 30 edition of the Opelika-Auburn News reprinted one from The Oklahoman stating that a Texas company may soon be allowed to ship LNG, which should be a cause for celebration. The editorial contends that the U.S. is “awash” in natural gas, which has depressed the market. The Department of Energy has conditionally approved the Texas LNG export facility, and the editorial states that more than 20 other proposals for LNG export facilities are under consideration.

Approval of the LNG export facilities could, according to the editorial, result in about 40 percent of the U.S. production of natural gas being exported. It concludes that this would eventually increase the price and “pinch consumers, but also would benefit Oklahoma companies and state revenues…”

As a matter of fact, all the talk about exporting our natural gas has already pinched some consumers, most notably the electric companies. The price of natural gas futures has soared in recent weeks, and the electric companies that switched from dirty coal to cleaner burning natural gas to fuel their generators are considering switching back to coal. This is an unfortunate turn of events. Coal-burning power plants are major sources of air and water pollution in the country, and most environmentalists I know believe that natural gas is by far safer than coal as a fuel. Environmentalists also fear that exporting the gas will increase demand that will in turn lead to more fracking, which in some areas has resulted in pollution of ground and surface waters and caused other problems. Readers interested in the fracking controversy should read an article on the subject in the March 2013 issue of National Geographic.

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Crazy hairy ants have been making the news lately. I wrote about this invasive ant species, which first appeared in Texas. It has since spread to Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. It’s likely that they will soon show up in Alabama. The colonies contain thousands, if not millions, of individuals, and invade houses and other buildings in which they can cause short circuits in electrical breaker boxes. They also invade and take over honeybee hives. Effective control of the ants is difficult. They do have one redeeming feature. Where they have become established, they have eliminated imported fire ants, although one person whose property was infested said, “If I had to contend with one or the other of the two, I’d rather live with the fire ants.”

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Among the numerous critters that attract my attention are moths belonging to the family Saturnidae, commonly called giant silkworm moths. They are attracted to lights, and the one I frequently see at my house is the Luna Moth, the large greenish one depicted on the TV advertising Lunesta sleeping pills. I rarely see Polyphemus Moths anymore, the large tan species with the conspicuous eyespots on the hind wings. Decades ago the ‘Polys’ greatly outnumbered Luna Moths. I believe I know why the former have precipitously declined, while the latter are at least as common now as they used to be.

Polyphemus Moth larvae pupate in cocoons suspended from small limbs of deciduous trees on which the larvae feed. Larvae of Luna Moths pupate in cocoons constructed in the folds of leaves, which fall to the forest floor and are inconspicuous among other fallen leaves. Gray Squirrels are known to feed on the pupae of Polyphemus Moths, which are easily located and eaten by the predacious squirrels.

If any of my readers has seen a Polyphemus Moth lately, please let me know. My e-mail address is rhmount@gmail.com. It’s been several years since I last saw one.

 

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept. of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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