Pipelines and Precedence: Understanding What’s Happening in Your Own Backyard.

Today news broke that a pipeline going through my neck of the woods (literally) leaked 50 thousand gallons of drilling fluids into a wetland area near a property owned by my former university. This hit me hard as I have been seeing this pipeline go in for months now, and have been getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of information on construction locations, company info, etc. I know there isn’t much I could have done to stop the spill, but it is all so close to home that I feel responsible to know what is happening.

This pipeline is traveling through a field that I have sat and watched the sunset over many times (pictured above) and near that university wetland that holds many memories for me, and huge environmental importance for the area (as all wetlands do). For me this isn’t only an environmental issue, it’s a heart issue. I still go to this wetland area now, and do all the same things, and hearing about this has me really fired up. When I get fired up, I want answers.

So, as this blog is for talking about misconceptions, I figured I would hit some major ones about pipelines. Some are things that I just learned, and as this pipeline travels through the landscape so close to home I think I am going to continue learning more and more. If any of this information is wrong, please do correct me! Like I said, this is a learning experience for me, and the reason I have been learning about this is because I want to know more about what is going on. If you have more information to share please do! If you choose to share information, please do it like a respectable scientist (and human being): kindly and patiently. Because let’s be honest, in any other form I am just going to ignore you! Thanks for being civil!

Misconceptions and Lesser-known Pipeline Information:

  1. Companies aren’t required to make their plans and updates available to the public. I read an article today that included a statement from our county engineer that said he really had no information to provide because the oil company is, “not required to provide updates.” This spill has obviously opened the informational floodgates if you will, because the oil company was required to divulge the event to the EPA, but I have been struggling to find information on the pipeline itself for months with little to no luck.
  2. Drilling mixes such as the ones that were spilled in this event aren’t strictly regulated, so when they spill or leak into surrounding areas there are known substances like bentonite, which is a clayish (extra sciencey term) substance used to cool and lubricate (lol) drills during work. However, there is a different cocktail of chemicals in every company’s arsenal. When a spill happens, the company is required to stop production and mitigate it, but the EPA doesn’t know what potentially harmful agents have escaped into the environment until they test for them. Even bentonite has extremely limited information regarding effects on environments, and the knowledge of the substance’s effects on humans appears to be limited as well. Chemicals all have safety information associated with them called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Here is a link to the sheet for bentonite. This may not sound exciting to a person who has never seen one, but MSDS forms are extremely user friendly and answer a lot of questions regarding the safety, usage, and known information on substances.
  3. Companies are not necessarily required to have permission from landowners to lay pipes. Easements could have been negotiated and already be existing, or companies can use eminent domain to give them access to the land without land owner consent. This has a lot of legal speak involved, which I am terrible at traversing, so if you want to read a bit more or if you can break this down better than I can in simple terms let me know!

This topic is super entangled with all sorts of political, social, economic, environmental issues and I will never be able to cover all of the misconceptions and lesser known information the way it needs to be.

This topic doesn’t have to be polarizing.

This is a community issue, and I want to treat it that way. Whether you think pipelines are good or bad, or if you have more information on how they work/why they are important/why they are scary to you, I want to talk about it. This story in my hometown isn’t the only case of not knowing until after the fact, and it shouldn’t be like that. To be aware of what’s happening in our own backyards we need calm conversations to take precedence over our egos and personal opinions. I just want to get to know your story and ideas, so let’s talk about it!

If you are interested in reading more about the pipeline leak that happened in my neighborhood, here are links to a local news source, and a release from the Alt National Park Facebook Page where I first saw the news break.


The Birds and the Bees. Without the Birds.

Imagine that you are a walking down the sidewalk when, suddenly, you hear a buzzing from behind you.  You do not have much time to react before a black and yellow blur comes straight at you.  You scream at the bee that has just startled you and say that “he” must be in a bad mood.  What most people do not know is that bees are not attempting to scare, sting, or eat you.  They are only acting on a single-minded mission to protect and provide for their colony.

Honey bees actually have a complicated social structure called a caste system that gives them a specific role in their hive.  This system has drones (males), workers (sterile females), and a queen (reproductive female).  That bee that flew towards you on the sidewalk was probably not a “he” because the only members that go far away from the hive are the workers, who all happen to be females.

These workers grow from fertilized eggs laid by the queen and are chosen to be a part of this group while they are still larva.  They make up a majority of the hive’s population and get the joy of running the hive with none of the benefits.  When they are young they air condition the hive by beating their wings and as they grow up they leave the hive to forage for food and protect the area from danger.  Since they are the only group that is able to sting and are irrelevant to reproduction, they will then forage for nectar for about 45 days and die.

Drones, on the other hand, are kept around a little while longer so that they can mate with the queen.  Drones are determined by being laid by the queen as unfertilized eggs.  Have you ever heard a woman say “I wish we could lock men up and only use them when we want to have kids,”?  Well, bees actually do that!  Drones are the only male members of the colony and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen, and other than that all they do is consume nutrients.  In fact, in the winter when resources are low, the queen will actually kick the drones out into the cold to die! That’s cold.  Pun intended.

The queen is obviously the most important to the hive in terms of continuing the population.  Among the entire population of female larva born, a select few will be chosen to be fed a special nutrient called “royal jelly”.  This means that more than one queen at a time is grown, but only one will survive to reproduce.  The first of all of the possible queens to mature will search the hive for the other growing queens and kill them to become the only reproductive female.  At this point the queen will briefly leave the hive to mate, and after her first flight she will rarely leave again.  This is most likely the only time she will be away from the hive.

So imagine a world where there is one queen, barely any men that all live in the dungeons waiting for the queen to call, and huge amounts of women harvesting food and fighting armies who threaten their city.  If you can imagine all of that, you know how the caste system of the honey bee works.

The Mountains Are Calling, and I Must Go.

The following is a journal entry I wrote June 15 in an attempt to express the feeling of living in the Western mountains.  At this point I had lived in or within sight of the Sierra, Bitterroot, San Gorgonio, and Tehachapi mountains.  There is so much history there and I learned a lot during my time in the mountains.  I have connected with non-living nature in a way I did not know was possible and the only way I know how to convey that connection is through sharing my own words in the form of a journal entry and the words of John Muir.  “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

Journal 6/15/2014

‘I just wrote the date on this page.  June 15, 2014.  I don’t know when it became June because I don’t remember it ever being March, April, or May.  In fact now that I think of it I am not sure my mind has truly known the month since January.  Why is this?  Maybe because I have been removed from the world, or that is how some would put it since I have been without television or internet for most of that time.  If it came to the words of John Muir he would probably say not that I had been removed from the world, but that I had, for the first time, entered it.

For the last 8 months I have been living near or in the mountains.

February-March just outside the Sierras, less than 2 hours from where John Muir himself was inspired by the Yosemite Vally.  April-May in Northern Idaho in the Bitterroot Range which Lewis and Clark traveled through.  June in the San Bernardino Mountains close to the tallest peak in Southern California: San Gorgonio. And finally, July in the Tehachapi Mountains.  They were all very different in climate and appearance but in the end they had very much the same effect on me.

Tehachapi Mountains

Tehachapi Mountains June 26, 2014


San Bernardino Mountains June 11, 2014

They called me.

John Muir said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” and now I understand why.

Nowhere have I experienced peace like I have standing by myself among the mountains.  You don’t feel alone because the mountains feel like they have souls.  They feel ominous and sometimes conscious.  AND IT IS SCARY, because you feel a little crazy that you feel like a huge chunk of rock is conscious.  But it is also comforting.  They feel like a big brother who only wants to keep a sideways eye on you while you play, just to make sure you are safe. I would never have understood John Muir if I had not entered some of the very mountains he spent his life in.  The mountains do feel alive, and therefore they can call.  They call like a siren, unavoidable and beautiful, and take you away from the hustle and bustle of the civilized world to live with the land.  It makes you want to stay forever and takes you from time.

Time moves slowly during the days and it feels like you have time to do all the things you desire, but since there are no dramatic stresses or events you can easily lose track of what day of the week it is, or even what month.  Even though I work here (I wish I didn’t have to) I am still captivated by the mountains.  It is nearly impossible to understand if you haven’t experienced it but I am glad now that I can say first hand that I understand John Muir.  The mountains are calling, and I must go.’


I don’t know if this will mean anything to anyone or make you feel any of what it feels like to be at the base of a 10,000 foot mountain but or stand on its peak but its the best I can do!  And someday if you get the chance you should experience it yourself!


Funny Bones and Barnacles: Misnomers and Misconceptions

There are many topics today, some big and some small, which are largely overlooked or not understood by the general public.  There are those that are misnamed like the funny bone which should be called the unfunny nerve, and others that are just misunderstood.  From the topic of global warming, to the reason a rock skips on the water, to the fact that barnacles are living organisms. Mostly it seems that scientists do not take the time to clarify potentially difficult topics, and that is why this blog is dedicated to the funny bones and barnacles of the world.

Among all of the scientific misconceptions I most enjoy the barnacle. If you asked 10 of your friends or family what a living barnacle looks like they might think you are tricking them, because many people do not think they are living at all.  You could show them the picture below and tell them the barnacle is a crustacean.  This means that these little immobile black and white guys are related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimp.  And my favorite barnacle fact: the barnacle has the longest penis in the animal kingdom with respect to its body size (can be more than 8 times the length of its body!).  If you watch the TV show “How I Met Your Mother” you will now understand Barney’s reference to himself as ‘the barnacle‘.

Follow this blog and learn more about the life of the barnacle as well as other misunderstood topics.

Living barnacles on a washed up coconut in Destin, Florida

Living barnacles on a washed up coconut in Destin, Florida