Monthly Archives: September 2015

Shell Stops Controversial Offshore Oil Exploration and Drilling Project Near Alaska

Silhouette of offshore jack up rig at sea during sunsetThe Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company announced Sunday night that they’re ending their offshore exploration and drilling efforts in the Arctic region ue to a lack of oil to make the project worthwhile, according to NPR.

While they wouldn’t go so far as to say their offshore Alaska drilling hopes would end for good, they did indicate they would be stopping for the “foreseeable future” after already having spent $7 billion on the project. The multinational company released a statement on their website, Shell.com.

“The Burger J well is approximately 150 miles from Barrow, Alaska, in about 150 feet of water. Shell safely drilled the well to a total depth of 6800 feet this summer in a basin that demonstrates many of the key attributes of a major petroleum basin,” the statement reads. “Shell has found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well, but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration in the Burger prospect. The well will be sealed and abandoned in accordance with U.S. regulations.”

The exploration of potential oil and gas reserves in the Chukchi Sea have been ongoing for several years, going back to 2012 when the project was halted over safety concerns. This past May they were able to secure federal approval, but not without a great deal of opposition.

Local Alaska Public Media reporter, Rachel Waldholz, covered the story for Alaskapublic.org.

“The project had drawn major protests from environmental groups, who worried drilling would impact marine mammals and that an oil spill in the arctic would be impossible to clean up,” Waldholz wrote.

While the concerns are certainly warranted when it comes to drilling in sensitive regions, it does reduce the overall potential of offshore production, which currently accounts for approximately 30% of the oil and half of the natural gas produced in the world today.

Shell also mentioned the ongoing political and governmental volatility that tends to follow these issues, stating that in addition to overall costs, the “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska” contributed to their decision as well.

New Research Gives Credence to Genetics’ Role in Autism Development

Autism special conceptAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in 50 school aged children in the United States have some form of Autism. As these statistics continue to rise, researchers have been hard at work trying to find a cause for the disorder.

For the most part, researchers have been battling a nature vs. nurture argument for some time. Some believe that autism springs from environmental causes, while a larger camp believes that the disorder is rooted in genetics.

But researchers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have uncovered compelling evidence that is strongly in favor of genetics being the cause of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

For the study, the researchers at CSHL studied mutations of genes that develop in the beginning of a child’s life — these are called “de novo likely gene-disruptive mutations,” or LGDs. The researchers studied how these LGDS occurred, and furthermore, how these genes become vulnerable and contribute to the development of ASD.

So far, LGDs have been a leading contributing factor in the development of ASD in the eyes of many autism researchers.

In addition to their vulnerabilities, researchers also investigated how these gene-disruptions were passed on from generation to generation.

Interestingly enough, researchers found that the mutated genes that usually lead to the development of these autism spectrum disorders are actually less mutated than the majority of other human genes. This is surprising, considering the widely accepted notion is that the more mutated a gene is, the more it affects a person’s health.

Ivan Iossifov, biologist and assistant professor at CSHL, believes he has an answer. Usually, individuals with severe autism don’t tend to reproduce. This stops the gene from mutating any further and from being passed down.

Given this knowledge, the researchers were able to discern which LGD genes can be considered “autism genes” and which are not. They have now narrowed the list down from 500 genes to 200 genes.

Tyra Banks Opens Up About Her Struggle With Infertility

Pregnant womanSupermodel and America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks recently spoke publicly about her issues with infertility on her talk show FABLife. According to the New York Post, Banks, along with cohost Chrissy Teigen, talked about fertility problems, and the emotional strain that comes with them.

During Banks’ 41 years of life, she’s accomplished many major goals; supermodel, entrepreneur, and talk show host are only a few of the many jobs that Banks has under her belt. However, her desire to be a mother is still strong, and her time to conceive may be running out.

Typically, women are most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24. Banks says that when she was in her 20s, she repeatedly told herself she’d have kids in three years.

”Every single year I kept saying that,” Banks said during her show with Teigen, who also reported having issues getting pregnant. “And then after a while it’s like, ‘OK, now I want to.’ And it’s not so easy.”

Banks has been dating her boyfriend, photographer Erik Asla, for two years now. The couple plan to have a child together but have been experiencing difficulties achieving pregnancy. They have even turned to IVF procedures to help the fertilization process.

Though Banks struggles with conceiving her first child, she does not plan to give up.

”I don’t just want one child. I want a litter,” exclaimed Banks. “And I want to be the kind of mom where my child can come to me for anything.”

As infertility issues become less taboo, more and more celebrities are admitting to their struggles with fertility. Recently, Kim Kardashian has expressed the difficulties she and husband Kanye West have been having with conceiving a second child. Mark Zuckerberg also recently announced the pregnancy of his wife, Priscilla Chan, after their long journey with infertility that ended with three miscarriages.

With many infertile couples believing that infertility is something to keep under wraps, these celebrity admissions may help make the topic less controversial.

Bottoms Up For Heavy Metal With Budweiser’s Special Edition Metallica Beer

Glass of light beer on a dark pub.Fans who attended Metallica’s recent performance in Quebec City were surprised by a certain aluminum presence at the heavy metal concert — namely a 48-foot truck packed to the gills with Labatt facility’s newly made Budweiser Metallica-branded beer.

The beer was created in commemoration of the Centre Vidéotron. According to NPR, Centre Vidéotron reported: “Budweiser has partnered with legendary rock band Metallica to channel the brute force of this historic show and be inspired by its vibrations, its energy and its decibels to create a beer in the image of the power of rock.”

The Metallica beer bears the tagline “Coulee dans le rock”, which translates to “cast in rock”. It also dons lightning bolts, a clear nod to the band’s 1984 album Ride the Lightning.

Though recently released at the concert, the beer will get a more widespread Quebec release later in September.

But if you’re looking to have a sip of the black-canned beer when it hits Canada’s shelves, you’d better act fast! Less than 100,000 cases will be sold in stores in Quebec.

While the craft beer market is worth around $19.6 billion, it doesn’t appear that the Metallica beer’s taste differs much from any other run-of-the-mill Budweiser. Rather, the appeal of the beer seems to be focused on its celebration of the band rather than any unique brewing techniques or flavors.

“During the concert, the sonic vibrations from Metallica’s music will be infused into the liquid, creating the rock and roll recipe,” said the beer maker in a press release.

Since their inception in 1981, the heavy metal band has been notorious for their relationship with alcohol. As NPR reports, the band has mentioned drinking before, after, and during shows right before they became famous — and they were even dubbed with the nickname “Alcohollica”.

But in their more than three-decade span, the band has matured and calmed down a great deal. Lars Ulrich, drummer and founding member, has been quoted saying that the furthest he goes now is a glass of champagne before shows.

Pope Francis Just Made It Easier for Catholics To Get Annulments

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

Continuing his modernization of the Catholic church, Pope Francis announced on Tuesday, September 8 that there would be a major change in the Catholic annulment process, making it easier for married couples to separate and remarry in the church.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new rules are the third major set of changes applying to Catholic annulments in the past 250 years. The new rules, released by the Vatican, were made in response to many complaints that the church’s process for annulling a marriage was too complicated, lengthy, and costly.

The Catholic church still does not permit divorce, and according to Business Insider, the pope said that these new rules “would not encourage or ‘favour’ the nullifying of marriage.” Instead, the changes are meant to speed up the process of receiving an annulment, and eliminating the cost that Catholic churches have been imposing on those seeking an annulment.

An annulment, by definition, is the nullification of a marriage which states that the union was never valid, thereby “erasing” the marriage from existence, so to speak. Common reasons for annulments include lack of consent, psychological immaturity, and purposely lying to one’s partner about a fundamental aspect of the union (such as being unable to have children).

The pope’s ruling was based on a year of research and research by a papal advisory committee. The biggest changes include: an annulment may be granted without two reviews from church courts; elimination of the annulment fee; and a “fast-track” option allowing a local bishop to grant an annulment in less than two months.

U.S. bishops concluded at a nationwide conference that the church’s annulment process usually takes between 12 and 18 months, although the WSJ referenced one Vatican news conference where panel secretary and papal adviser Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge stated that the annulment process lasts “no less than two, maybe five, and sometimes 10 years.”

The new changes are expected to resonate soundly within the U.S., where Catholics are anxiously awaiting the Pope’s impending visit this coming fall. American couples make up 40% of the world’s annulment requests and an estimated 10% of the U.S. population has been divorced at least once.

The announcement came just days after Pope Francis stated that priests would have the temporary ability to grant forgiveness to women who have received abortions.

New Study Shows Brain Damage from Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea

While it’s no secret that obstructive sleep apnea is a huge issue in America, researchers at UCLA are now saying it may play an even bigger role in our health that was previously thought. A new study reports that the condition contributes to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, which is necessary in protecting brain tissue.

The study, which was released in the Journal of Neuroimaging, may open doors for new ways of treating sleep apnea. The condition affects about 22 million American adults, and is about twice as common in men as women. The condition is characterized by sleep interruptions which are caused by obstructed airways.

The purpose of the blood-brain barrier is an important one — it prevents too many infections, chemicals, and/or bacteria from entering the brain. Damage of the blood-brain barrier has been known to cause other serious health issues such as strokes, epilepsy, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, among others.

“We found that the blood–brain barrier becomes more permeable in obstructive sleep apnea, a breakdown that could contribute to brain injury, as well as potentially enhancing or accelerating the damage,” said Rajesh Kumar, a principal investigator for the study and associate professor in the departments of anesthesiology and radiological sciences at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.

“This type of brain injury in obstructive sleep apnea has significant consequences to memory, mood and cardiovascular risk, but physicians and researchers have developed pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapeutic strategies to repair blood–brain barrier function in other conditions,” he added.

Over the past 12 years, other research done at UCLA has also focused on sleep apnea. Studies have found that gasping throughout the night in response to blocked airways can cause high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and/or memory loss. It has also been linked to tiredness throughout the day, stroke, diabetes, and other issues.

Experts say that the issues caused by or linked to sleep apnea are likely due to the fact that obstructed airways lead to a lack of oxygen circulating through the body. The issue to face now is the fact that doctors and researchers still cannot figure out the cause of sleep apnea.

The findings in this particular study were possible thanks to a procedure used by very few teams around the world. Using a magnetic resonance method, the researchers were able to measure the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier in a noninvasive procedure. The study showed that the breakdown was much higher in those with untreated sleep apnea, as compared to healthy people.

“This suggests that besides improving breathing in obstructive sleep apnea patients, we need to repair or improve blood–brain barrier function, perhaps by using treatments already available for other conditions,” said Kumar.

Kumar said it should be noted that the study was just nine people with sleep apnea versus nine healthy people as the control group, so it was a relatively small study. Researchers now plan to begin a study which will look at new strategies of helping or overcoming the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier.

U.S. Government Passes Regulations on Cell Phone Tracking for the First Time, Ever

Business woman using a smart phone

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. government recently cracked down on the use of mobile phone tracking devices. To use one of these devices, the U.S. Department of Justice stated, a warrant must first be obtained.

The technology is known as a “stingray,” which The Guardian described as “a suitcase-sized device” which picks up nearby cell phone data by “tricking” the cell phones into thinking that it’s a cell tower. This allows the stingray to identify the phone number of each device even if the owner doesn’t make any calls or send any text messages — thereby allowing authorities to pinpoint an individual’s location simply by scanning the neighborhood for his or her cell phone.

Stingrays have proven to be invaluable for law enforcement agencies; as the BBC reported, police units often use stingrays in investigations involving kidnappings, fugitive hunts, and narcotics trafficking cases.

But as ComputerWeekly.com noted, stingrays are also capable of picking up a wealth of data when sweeping an area beyond just phone numbers. They can intercept phone calls and texts that are sent from any cell phones in the targeted area, and can also intercept calls and texts that are sent to any phone in the targeted area.

The issue with stingrays is a matter of individual privacy, civil liberties groups have stated. If an individual hasn’t committed a crime, should authorities be able to infiltrate his or her private communication lines? And should they be capable of storing records of that data “just in case”?

Americans are relying on their phones now more so than ever before; although security is certainly a priority, privacy needs to be addressed as well. Many consumers would argue that intercepting text messages could actually be more invasive and destructive than entering a person’s home.

It’s estimated that American consumers will spend more than $140 billion annually through their mobile phones by 2019; digital receipts and bank account statements can be sent through an app, an email, and even a text message. If the right text message falls into the wrong hands, a credit or debit card number isn’t too difficult to find — and from there on out, everything down to the individual’s Social Security number is up for grabs.

Currently, according to the BBC, stingrays are monitored closely to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that there are around 53 agencies in only 21 states that are using stingrays.

Nevertheless, this technology isn’t exactly new. Details regarding how stingrays work and when they’re actually used have been “shrouded in secrecy,” the BBC stated, which has made it difficult to pass any regulations or restrictions on the use of stingrays.

The ACLU has said that this federal ruling is a “positive first step” but that there are still many loopholes around the policy.

Zero Injured After Frightening Roof Collapse at Popular NY Restaurant

caution-152926_1280 (1)

A scary situation at a popular New York lunch spot has left its owners and patrons in complete shock, unsure of the restaurant’s future.

According to local New York news affiliate CBS2, an outdoor façade collapsed out of nowhere during the lunch rush at Tequila Sunrise, a well-known Mexican eatery in Larchmont, NY, a village about 18 miles northeast of Manhattan.

A vigilant bystander, Erin Ferrarone, noticed a crack developing in the terra cotta roof and notified the restaurant. A waiter ushered four people inside who were sitting directly under the façade just minutes before it violently collapsed onto the sidewalk.

“I saw the crack in the side of the building, I was standing there with my friend,” Ferrarone said. “I went over to the building department and told them about the crack and then my friend, Jen, she went into Tequila Sunrise and told them because there were four people sitting outside and they moved them inside.”

Tequila Sunrise issued a statement on their Facebook page just hours after the collapse.

“At 12:30 p.m. today, the front signage at Tequila Sunrise fell onto the sidewalk. We are all safe and thankful that no one was injured in the accident. Thank you all for your heartfelt concern and messages!” the statement said.

Firefighters are searching for answers as to why the roof collapsed. They point to a fire the building had several years ago, as well as noting that the heavy terra cotta roof played a role in its instability.

While the terra cotta roof suits the Mexican flair of the restaurant, a more durable material could have helped prevent this near-tragedy. Metal roofs often last 50 or more years with proper maintenance, and they are generally better at withstanding fire damage than other materials.

While the fire department searches for answers, the staff and patrons who witnessed the roof collapse are still shaken by the experience.

The waiter who moved the four patrons inside, identified only as “Carlos,” was visibly distraught and refused further comment regarding the incident.

Lohud.com reports that the collapse was originally called in to authorities as an “explosion,” but Larchmont Fire Chief John Caparelli said there was no explosion, adding that it was “a miracle” that nobody was harmed by the falling roof.

Tequila Sunrise is closed until further notice. The restaurant must submit new roofing plans to the town from a structural engineer before it can reopen.

Researchers Find Protein Connected To Alzheimer’s Disease Is Transmittable Through Infected Tissue

Alzheimers disease word cloud

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t contagious, but new research suggests that specific proteins connected to the disease may actually be transmittable from one person to another under certain conditions.

The finding is the first of its nature, and although the data is still fairly abstract, medical researchers are already stating that it could change the way Alzheimer’s is treated. If these initial findings are correct, it would mean that a sticky protein associated with Alzheimer’s could possibly be transmitted via contaminated surgical equipment.

John Collinge, a neurologist at University College London (UCL), partnered up with a few of his colleagues in London to study a protein called an amyloid, which is sometimes called “the Alzheimer’s protein.” An amyloid beta protein is an abnormal protein which can give Alzheimer’s the first push it needs to begin developing.

The UCL team examined the brains of eight people who had died from a medical condition called Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD), which the Washington Post explained is a disease that “steadily destroys brain tissue.”

The eight cadavers in the study were all adults, aged 36 to 51, who had been injected with a very specific human-derived growth hormone as children; before 1985, the growth hormone had been created using bits of tissue taken from the pituitary glands of cadavers. Many of these tissue extractions had been infected with the amyloid beta protein, so when the tissue-derived hormone was injected into the eight patients, the amyloid protein began building up in their bodies while wearing down their healthy, living brain tissue.

The Guardian noted that none of the patients had carried the gene for early-onset dementia, and none of the patients actually had Alzheimer’s. Instead, the UCL team believes that amyloid beta pieces functioned as “seeds” that were able to control tissue development — and destruction — thereby leading to CJD.

Because the cadavers had all been infected with the protein through infected human tissue, leading to fatal cases of CJD, researchers believe that a similar process might occur with Alzheimer’s. According to TIME magazine, blood vessels in the patients’ brains had been damaged by the protein, and this same type of damage occurs in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The researchers have been careful to state that this doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s is contagious in the same way that other viruses and infections may be passed from person to person; additionally, the mere presence of amyloid beta in a person’s body isn’t enough to concretely determine whether or not the patient will develop Alzheimer’s.

Nevertheless, it could provide future research teams with a good foundation for examining possible causes and preventative strategies of the common disease, which affects an estimated 44 million worldwide and which currently has no treatment.

Obama’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ Set to Do More Harm Than Good

obama

Obama gave a very clear message in 2008 when asked how his energy policies would affect the costs of heating and cooling, saying they would “necessarily skyrocket.”

He wasn’t lying.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final version of its Clean Power Plan, something that President Obama has been touting as a “moral necessity to fight for a cleaning environment” for over seven years.

The primary goal of the plan is to cut carbon emissions in the U.S., decreasing world temperatures and aiding in the reversal of rising sea levels.

However, the EPA’s own publicly-available research seems to dispute these theories. The regulation is projected to result in a 0.018 degree decrease in global temperatures, and a whopping decrease of 0.01 inches in sea levels.

As you may have guessed, the costs of redesigning the entire electricity grid in Texas is not quite worth the promised results.

The regulation is supposed to cut carbon emissions in the state of Texas by about 34% in the next 15 years.

By redesigning the way the state consumes electricity to achieve this lofty goal, Texas families can expect their yearly electricity costs to increase by 10% every year for more than a decade.

Businesses and families alike will be forced to make drastic changes if the proposed federal regulations are enforced in Texas.

Things like switching to high-efficiency air conditioners could reduce energy usage by 20-50%, but the state needs more answers like this if they don’t want to go broke from the Clean Power Plan.

According to Forbes, the Clean Power Plan is also having a drastic effect on Western states. California traded electricity with the Pacific Northwest by exchanging their natural winter heat for hydroelectricity to power air conditioners in the sweltering summers.

With the implementation of the EPA’s new plan, this is no longer plausible.

The EPA is requiring each state to submit a state implementation plan, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has refused to do. Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined over 10 other states in a lawsuit against the federal government.