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Certainty and doubt as Louisiana builds berms in Gulf

Three months after BP capped its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico, the state of Louisiana is still doggedly building a chain of sand berms off its coast to block and capture oil, even as federal officials and many scientists argue that the effort will prove pointless. Since early June, a series of low-lying islands stretching nearly eight miles have been constructed several miles from the coastline by hundreds of workers with sand dredged from gulf waters.

Gov. Bobby Jindal made the sand berms a signature element of his response to the oil spill last spring, exhorting federal officials to approve the project and BP to foot the bill. So far the oil company has dispersed $240 million of a promised $360 million to the state.

So far, the berms have captured only 1,000 barrels of oil, according to official estimates, compared with the nearly 5 million barrels believed to have spewed from the BP well overall. By contrast, more than 800,000 barrels of oil were captured by BP at the wellhead, and roughly 270,000 barrels of oil were burned off by Coast Guard vessels offshore. Skimming operations, meanwhile, recovered at least 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture.

Credit cards to soon get a makeover, new technology

Next month, Citibank will begin testing a card that has two buttons and tiny lights that allow users to choose at the register whether they want to pay with rewards points or credit, at most any merchant they please.

Other card issuers are testing more newfangled cards, including some that can double as credit and debit cards, and cards with fraud protections baked right into the plastic. One, for instance, shows a portion of the account number only after the cardholder enters a PIN.

Even with the innovations, no one knows how long plastic cards will last. Citi’s cards known as 2G, for second generation are no thicker and just as flexible as conventional plastic, but they contain a battery with a four-year life, an embedded chip and, of course, the buttons, which took nearly a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.

Stress-free slaughter may mean more tender chicken

Shoppers in the supermarket today can buy chicken free of nearly everything but adjectives. It comes free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised on vegetarian feed, organic, even air-chilled. Coming soon: stress-free?

Two premium chicken producers, Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Mary’s Chickens in California, are preparing to switch to a system of killing their birds that they consider more humane. The new system uses carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious before they are hung by their feet to have their throats slit, sparing them the potential suffering associated with conventional slaughter methods.

“When you grab a chicken, turn it upside down and put it on the line, it’s stress, stress, stress,” said Scott Sechler, the owner of Bell & Evans. “Our system is designed so that we put them to sleep without stress and we kill them without stress.”

Sechler said he expects the chickens to be more tender because they faced less stress when they died.

The new system is also meant to be better for workers. The live hang area today is usually dimly lighted to keep birds from being startled, and workers have to contend with struggling, flapping chickens.