Study: U.S. Coal-Mining Companies Are Dependent on Cheap Federal Coal

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Phil McKenna for InsideClimate News:The top three coal companies in the U.S. mine the majority of their coal, as much as 88 percent of their total production, from land owned and leased by the federal government, according to a report published Wednesday by the environmental group Greenpeace.The report, which detailed the companies’ dependence on subsidized, government-owned coal, came two months after Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal producer, filed for bankruptcy. On Wednesday Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal mining company, said in a financial report that it may also seek bankruptcy protection.Greenpeace obtained the information through a public records request for information about federal coal production for each of the companies and their subsidiaries in 2014. The group then compared this information to each company’s total coal production. The report added to existing knowledge of industry’s reliance on subsidized coal from federal lands or coal that is otherwise owned by the U.S. government.The report found that each of the three companies rely on federal coal for more than two-thirds of their production. Two of the companies, Cloud Peak Energy and Arch Coal, get more than 80 percent from federally leased land. At the same time, the companies have tried to block federal policies that threaten this business model.“These companies are attacking climate change policies, clean air rules, clean water rules and decry a so called ‘war on coal,’” said Joe Smyth, Greenpeace spokesperson and author of the report. “At the same time they depend to a huge extent on federal coal.”Government watchdogs said the report shines a light on longstanding policies favorable to coal companies. The federal government has provided the coal industry with more than $70 billion in tax breaks and subsidies since 1950, according to a 2009 report by Taxpayers for Common Sense. For years, companies have been granted access to the country’s immense public-land coal resource at prices well below market value. Study: U.S. Coal-Mining Companies Are Dependent on Cheap Federal Coallast_img read more

Peabody Will Be a Test Case for Who Pays Cleanup Costs

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Michael West for the Sydney Morning Herald:Peabody is destined to become a test case for who gets left high-and-dry in the aftermath of a foreign-controlled corporate collapse. Should it succumb to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US, the ramifications here for the coal sector; for workers, creditors, local communities and mine rehabilitation are immense, yet impossible to determine with any precision.Many others such as rival, Swiss-controlled Glencore, are also sweating it out. Glencore Operations Australia revealed $US21 billion ($27.8 billion) in debt at last balance date – although the net position for the labyrinthine group is hard to work out as it doesn’t consolidate its accounts at the top of the corporate tree in Australia – and the coal price has been ravaged since. Peabody though is in a far more imminent peril. It struck a credit deal last year where it pledged “65 per cent of first tier foreign subs, including Australia, in Peabody Investments (Gibraltar) Ltd to lenders as collateral for a $US1.2 billion credit facility”.The rest of the Australian assets are controlled by a Dutch entity and the ultimate shareholder is Peabody Energy in the US (whose shares have shrunk from $US1000 to $US2.12 in five years, for a present market value of just $US39 million as of Friday).What happens if, or more likely when, it hits the wall? What happens indeed when others follow? Will they leave behind a collection of deep pits, the profits long since garnered offshore, and a legacy of acid mine drainage?Full article: Is coal giant funded for its mine rehab? Peabody Will Be a Test Case for Who Pays Cleanup Costslast_img read more

U.S. Coal Production Drops Faster Than Expected, and Well Ahead of Clean Power Plan

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Chris Mooney for the Washington Post:Looking at annual production numbers over the past few years, combined with EIA’s prediction for total production in 2016:The U.S. produced 999.7 million short tons of coal in 2014, according to EIA, the large majority of which was consumed to generate electricity right here at home. However, in 2015 that dipped to 895.4 million short tons, a drop of more than 100 million tons in just one year. The drop, incidentally, was considerably more than EIA itself had forecast around this time a year ago, when the agency had expected a decline to 926 million tons.So there was a big decline in U.S. coal production when comparing 2014 with 2015 — but looking at 2016, the drop is expected to be even bigger.“Forecast coal production is expected to decrease by 143 [million short tons] (16%) in 2016, which would be the largest annual percentage decline since 1958,” says EIA. Total production is forecast to just be 752.5 million short tons, or an over 200 million ton decline from the level just 2 years ago.This, too, was not what EIA was expecting. It thought a year ago that coal production would be at 941 million tons this year, a number that looks like it’s now set to be close to 200 million tons off.The gist? Coal production in the United States is falling, faster than expected and long before the U.S. Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the Supreme Court, has come into effect.These striking numbers show just how fast we’re switching off coal U.S. Coal Production Drops Faster Than Expected, and Well Ahead of Clean Power Planlast_img read more

Australian coal-fired generator signs large solar power purchase deal

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享PV Magazine:Delta Electricity has contracted a total of 150 MW of solar power from the 275MW AC/332MW DC Darlington Solar Farm, which will be one of Australia’s largest solar PV projects once completed. The power purchase agreement has been inked with the project developer, Edify Energy, which expects to reach financial close and commence construction shortly.The massive solar farm planned to be coupled with a big 100 MWh energy storage facility was approved by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment last week, as state bureaucrats approv[ed] nearly 500 MW of solar PV. Located near Griffith in western NSW, the Darlington Point Solar Farm will generate 685,000 MWh of renewable energy annually, enough to power approximately 130,000 homes and create up to 400 local construction jobs with commercial operation is slated for early 2020.In a joint statement, the two companies describe the PPA as an example of solar working together with coal in NSW, demonstrating the growing place of renewable energy. “Delta recognises that both dispatchable power and low emission technologies have a role to play in supporting an affordable, reliable and sustainable national electricity market,” said Delta Electricity company secretary, Steve Gurney.The companies note that the agreement ends in 2030, coinciding with both the end of the RET period as well as the current expected operating life for [the coal-fired] Vales Point Power Station.Combining the output of the solar and coal-fired power plant is not new for Delta Electricity. The company is also developing the 55 MW Vales Point solar project alongside the aging coal plant on the shores of Lake Macquarie, NSW, as one of the first large scale solar power plant in Australia to operate in conjunction with a coal-fired power station.More: Coal generator owner in Australia inks major solar PPA Australian coal-fired generator signs large solar power purchase deallast_img read more

Google to get 300MW of new TVA solar for Alabama, Tennessee data centers

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Times Free Press:The world’s biggest solar producer will build Alabama’s biggest solar farm in Hollywood, Alabama, in the next two years to supply renewable energy for the $600 million data center Google is building on TVA’s former Widows Creek coal plant site.NextEra Energy Resources will build the new 150-megawatt solar farm near the abandoned Bellefonte nuclear plant and sell the power to the Tennessee Valley Authority to help TVA deliver only renewable energy for Google’s nearby facility. A similar-sized solar farm also will be built by Invenergy in Yum Yum, Tennessee to supply another Google data center being built near Clarksville, Tennessee.Collectively, the two solar energy companies will put up 1.6 million solar panels on the two parcels, representing the biggest solar installation in both Tennessee and Alabama and the largest solar farms ever built for Google. Combined, the two new facilities will be capable of generating up to 413 megawatts of electricity at peak periods from the sun.Google is building the new data centers to help meet the rising demand for data transmissions from the search engine giant. Data process centers handle as many as 100 billion searches for Google every month and 500 hours of video uploads to YouTube every minute. Google says its data centers use 50 percent less energy than other comparable data centers. Google also has committed to using only renewable energy to power the facilities.Wednesday’s announcement of the new solar farms for TVA comes less than three months after First Solar and NextEra also announced plans for other 150-megawatt solar farms, also in Tennessee and Alabama, to supply Facebook and other businesses looking for renewable energy to power their operations.More: Largest solar farms in Alabama, Tennessee planned for new Google data centers Google to get 300MW of new TVA solar for Alabama, Tennessee data centerslast_img read more

Analysts project sharp drop in U.S. thermal coal exports through 2020

first_imgAnalysts project sharp drop in U.S. thermal coal exports through 2020 FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Platts:U.S. thermal coal exports are set to drop as much as 20% by 2020 on the back of weaker seaborne prices, Seaport Global analysts said in a note published April 2.At current prices, “it’s really hard for most anyone in the U.S. to generate margins that make sense relative to domestic opportunities,” Senior Analyst Mark Levin and Senior Associate Analyst Nathan Martin wrote, adding that by 2020 they expect U.S. thermal coal export to fall by 15%-20%.While strength in prices in 2018 allowed producers to lock in tons for the first half of 2019, Seaport analysts still forecast an 8% year-over-year decline in total 2019 U.S. steam coal exports given the recent drop.Since the start of 2019, the Northern European delivered price has experienced a “quick and decisive fall” as European coal inventories have “swelled” due to warm weather, declining natural gas prices and an increase in Russian supplies on the back of a weak ruble and strong production, the report said.With the front-quarter Northern European delivered price of $67 per tonne near its lowest point since September 2016, it is down about 26% from the average front-quarter price of $91 per tonne in 2018, which allowed U.S. thermal exports to reach their highest level since 2012, according to the analysts.More: Seaport: U.S. thermal coal exports to fall up to 20% by 2020 on seaborne weaknesslast_img read more

Seven-day reprieve for Powder River Basin coal producer Cloud Peak

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Gillette News-Record:Already operating on borrowed time, Cloud Peak Energy Corp. borrowed a little more when it was granted another seven days forbearance on a $1.8 million interest payment originally due March 15.In a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday afternoon, the Gillette-based thermal coal producer paints a grim picture that may be headed to Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.“We will need to restructure our balance sheet in order to improve our capital structure, adjust our business to ongoing depressed Powder River Basin thermal coal industry conditions, address our significantly reduced liquidity and continue as a going concern,” the company says in the filing.In addition to securing a forbearance until May 7 for the $1.8 million payment on debt due in 2024, Cloud Peak said it won’t pay $17.4 million on its 2021 notes that was due Wednesday. Instead, the company is using a 30-day grace period for that debt, extending that interest payment out until May 31.Wednesday’s announcement may or may not mean the company has a deal in the works that could spare it having to file for Chapter 11 reorganization, said Robert Godby, director for the Center for Energy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.By first using the 30-day grace period and getting two forbearances after that, Cloud Peak “has made it pretty clear they’re not in a position to make that payment,” Godby said. “They’re also not in a position to make that other ($17.4 million) payment.”More: Cloud Peak gets another 7-day reprieve Seven-day reprieve for Powder River Basin coal producer Cloud Peaklast_img read more

It’s official: Somerset coal plant in New York to close within 90 days

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享The Buffalo News:The giant coal-burning power plant on the shore of Lake Ontario in Somerset, once Niagara County’s largest taxpayer, will be mothballed within 90 days.Plans are already afoot for the 1,800-acre site’s future, including a $550 million data center and a lakefront town park. State funding already has been approved for the park, and a New York Power Authority power allocation has been approved for the data center.Somerset Operating Co., the owner of the 685-megawatt plant, announced Monday that it had filed a deactivation notice Friday with the Public Service Commission and the New York Independent System Operator, the entity that manages the state’s power grid.If those agencies decide the plant is still needed to keep the grid reliable, it could be saved, at least for a while. But Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said Monday that he doesn’t expect that to happen.The plant has been idle far more than it has been active in recent years. The company’s announcement said the shutdown decision was made “based on stricter new state air emission regulations designed to eliminate coal in New York and deteriorating market conditions.”Somerset Operating had foreshadowed the shutdown this summer, when it announced plans for the Empire State Data Hub, which would be a newly constructed facility near the western end of the power plant property.More: Somerset’s giant coal-burning power plant will be deactivated within 90 days It’s official: Somerset coal plant in New York to close within 90 dayslast_img read more

In Search of Bigfoot

first_imgOriginal story ran in the August 2008 issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors.Blue Ridge Outdoors goes in search of Bigfoot.“Can all these people be crazy?” asks William Dranginis as we scan the forest with night vision goggles.“Thousands of people have seen them. How can they all be nuts?”It’s midnight and the black veil of darkness that pervades the woods has been transformed into varying shades of green, thanks to the night vision goggles we’re using. It’s as if we’ve stepped out of reality and into a video game.We’re looking for Bigfoot in a wildlife management area on the edge of the Rappahannock River, about an hour from Washington D.C. It’s a strange thing to be doing on a Sunday night in the woods of Eastern Virginia, because A) Bigfoot does not exist according to mainstream scientists, and B) if he does exist, it’s hard to imagine the creature living here, half an hour from the nearest D.C. Metro stop.But Dranginis claims to have seen a Bigfoot creature not far from here several years ago, and a number of sightings have been reported in this general vicinity dating back to the 1950s. Even though the Pacific Northwest is widely recognized as Bigfoot country, the Southeast has a long history of Bigfoot sightings, from the pre-colonial Native American tribes, to the first settlers in Virginia, to the Dranginises of today. Even more shocking than the prevalence of Bigfoot sightings below the Mason Dixon is the fact that a number of well-respected scientists are starting to warm up to the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s something to all this Bigfoot business. Dranginis is on the forefront of Bigfoot field research, supplying some of these scientists with the data they need to prove to the world that Bigfoot is not just a mythical creature that exists in the imaginations of a few overzealous believers, but an actual living species of primate that should be recognized by the scientific community.So here we are, sitting in the dark on a Sunday night, searching the woods with night vision technology, looking for a seven-foot-tall ape-like creature who walks on two legs and is not supposed to exist.———-BIGFOOT 101Bigfoot is not alone. Most people assume Bigfoot is a single creature, but researchers believe there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of these man-like apes roaming the forests of the world. Eyewitnesses put the creature anywhere between six and ten feet tall. Reports vary, but they all say it is at least 500 pounds. It runs approximately 40 miles per hour. It is extremely agile, quiet, and curious but suspicious at the same time. Its eyes will sometimes glow red or yellow.In 1967, two Bigfoot hunters caught on video a large, ape-like creature in Northern California near the Oregon border. For 16 seconds of shaky film, you can watch Bigfoot walk on two legs through a sandy creek bed, swinging its arms with each big stride it takes before disappearing into the dense forest. It’s called the Patterson-Gimlin Film (named after the two hunters who captured the footage), and depending on whom you ask, it is either a glaring hoax or the most convincing evidence of Bigfoot’s existence. Doubters say the film captures nothing more than a man in an ape suit walking through the woods, but some experts in anatomy and motion say there is no way a man in a suit could pull off the locomotive nuances captured on film. To this day, the 16 seconds of film have never been definitively discredited, though many have tried.Fact or fiction, that film turned the Pacific Northwest into ground zero for Bigfoot encounters, while also inspiring hundreds of amateur “researchers” to hit the woods in hopes of catching a glimpse of the creature for themselves. Sightings have been reported all across America, from Florida to Washington State—eyewitness reports that have fueled a small army of Bigfoot hunters to scour the woods for enough tangible evidence to prove Bigfoot’s existence.Some say Bigfoot is the missing link, a distant cousin of man on the evolutionary tree. Others say the creatures are simply an undiscovered species of ape. The majority of mainstream scientists refuse to entertain either theory.“How do you research a creature that the scientific community says does not exist?” Dranginis asks as we sit in a field listening to bullfrogs bellow from a nearby pond. “Intelligence and superior technology. That’s how.”There are three other Bigfoot researchers with us in the forest, most of whom are decked out in camouflage and safari khaki, and they’re all packing serious technological hardware. Billy Willard is a researcher with his own weekly radio show about Sasquatch hunting who’s filming everything with an infrared digital video recorder. D.B. is a stay-at-home dad and the unofficial “sound guy” of the group. He’s hidden a digital audio recorder in the woods, a few hundred yards from our location, and he has dragged a massive speaker system into the forest on a red Radio Flyer wagon. He’s going to blast Bigfoot calls into the trees, hoping for a response. Then there’s Tom, a large man who refuses to take his Ray Bans off, even indoors, who records and listens to every sound in the forest through a parabolic microphone—a small satellite-looking device that amplifies even the smallest creak in the woods into clear, high-definition sound. Dranginis rolls onto the scene with an infrared digital video recorder, night vision goggles, and the holy grail of Sasquatch hunting: a thermal camera, which translates the landscape into varying heat signatures. The trees and bushes become ghost-white, while humans and animals become shapes of red, orange, and yellow.The price tag of all this high tech equipment? Over $20,000. And this is just Dranginis’ off-the-shelf equipment. For his day job, he works for Northrup Grumman modifying video security systems for the Department of Defense.“I get paid to develop technology that helps find people who don’t want to be found,” Dranginis says. “The work I do there parallels the work I do with Bigfoot.”Case in point: Dranginis has invented a remote camera system called the Eyegotcha that puts off no ultraviolet light or ultrasonic sound. It is the first camera system of its kind, and he hopes that it will be the key ingredient in catching these creatures on film, a feat that has not been accomplished since the original Bigfoot footage in 1967—at least, not to a degree that would satisfy skeptics.“There’s research that shows animals hear ultrasonic and see in ultraviolet,” Dranginis says, showing me his EyeGotcha system, which looks a lot like the black box of a commercial jet. “I think that’s why we haven’t caught one of these creatures on a trail camera yet. They know the cameras are there, and they avoid them.”Hundreds of people search for Bigfoot on a regular basis—there are active research groups in all 50 states—but none use the sort of high-tech equipment that Dranginis and his cohorts carry. For several years, Dranginis drove around Virginia and West Virginia in a converted RV stocked with the latest digital video and thermal imaging equipment available. Recently, he’s sold the RV and cashed in a chunk of his 401K to purchase a cabin in West Virginia—a permanent research station in a habitat that’s ripe with Bigfoot sightings.“It’s on the edge of a steep mountain with banks of old growth that loggers couldn’t get to,” Dranginis says. “I think that area supplied Sasquatch with a safety net, a place where they could live for generations without being harassed.”At the cabin, Dranginis is setting “curiosity traps” (glowing basketballs, jars of peanut butter, and TV screens that emit blue light into the woods) that trigger security cameras and homing beacons. It’s a project that has cost Dranginis over $100,000— money that he says is perfectly well spent. “Something’s gonna happen at the cabin. This is what’s gonna get me video.”Dranginis is an even-keeled, professional, middle-aged man with a family and steady job who just happens to be cashing in his retirement fund to hunt for a mythical creature. It’s a quest that Dranginis probably wouldn’t be on if he hadn’t gone metal detecting 13 years ago. That’s when he saw a seven-foot ape standing in the woods on the edge of Washington D.C. Dranginis and two FBI agents were looking for Civil War artifacts in a privately owned forest near Prince William Forest and Quantico. One of the agents dropped his metal detector and pointed toward the woods.“I look over and a big black head pops out from behind the tree,” Dranginis says. “Both the agents grabbed their weapons and the thing starts running. It was something right out of a book of mythology. Much bigger than human. Muscles flexing, hair blowing in the wind. The shoulders were four feet wide. No way was it a guy in a suit. It was big and bulky, but agile. We had a clear view of it. I looked down at one of my friend’s hands, and his knuckles were white around the gun.”The craziest thing about Dranginis’ account isn’t that he saw a giant bipedal ape that isn’t supposed to exist, it’s that he saw a giant bipedal ape in Eastern Virginia, thousands of miles away from the misty woods of the Pacific Northwest. If he would have said he saw Bigfoot in a mall outside Richmond, it wouldn’t sound any more unlikely. Dranginis contacted some Bigfoot researchers in California and Oregon at the time of his sighting, but they all told him the same thing: There are no Bigfoot in the Eastern United States.While most Bigfoot sightings come from the Pacific Northwest, Eastern states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida have a high frequency of sightings as well. There’s actually a long history of Bigfoot sightings throughout the Southeast. The first settlers to push west into Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia told stories of large apes throwing rocks at their settlements. The Cherokee Indians supposedly had two names for Bigfoot-like creatures: “Nun Yunu Wi” (Stone Man) and “Kecleh-Kudleh” (Hairy Savage). Loggers in the early part of the 20th century described apes along the mountains that divide Virginia and West Virginia. In 1960, a bread truck driver crossed a bridge in West Virginia when a seven-foot-tall ape-man walked in front of him. That particular sighting got picked up by several newspapers. Reports have been frequent in North Carolina’s Madison County since the first homesteaders set up permanent residence in the hollows. Dranginis is currently investigating three farms in Virginia that have repetitive Bigfoot activity.Bigfoot sightings in the Southeast are common. But then, so are Elvis sightings.“Anyone who says they’ve seen a Bigfoot is branded as a kook,” Dranginis says. “But this is not a crackpot scheme. There is physical evidence. I know what I saw.”———-ALSO KNOWN ASLarge, bipedal apes pop up in the folklore of native people across the globe. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most famous Bigfoot-like creatures.SASQUATCH“Sasquatch” is a derivative of “Sesquac,” which means “wild man” in a British Columbian Native American language.YETIStalking the high elevations of the Himalayas, the Yeti has captured the interest of the western world since climbers began tackling peaks like Everest. Local tribes consider the Yeti to be a fact of life, no more strange than the black bears of Appalachia. Reports from Western climbers are frequent throughout the last hundred years, so frequent that even Sir Edmund Hillary himself mounted an expedition in search of the massive man-ape.ALMASAnother variety of Bigfoot, this creature lives in the mountainous terrain on the border of Mongolia and China. It’s more human-like than our Bigfoot; some scientists believe it’s more of a Neanderthal than a primate.SISIMITEThis is the ape-man of Central America. The shaggy-haired creature is said to have supernatural powers, which it uses to protect the wilderness. According to legend, the Sisimite will attack hunters in order to protect wildlife.SKUNK APEThe Southernmost Bigfoot to occupy North America, the Skunk Ape is a resident of Florida’s extensive Everglades. Some say it is a cousin to Bigfoot, while others say it’s the same species. The number of sightings of the Skunk Ape in Florida rival the number sightings of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. The animal earned its name because of its unique smell.———-THE SCIENCE OF BIGFOOT“I get accused of believing in Bigfoot, but belief has nothing to do with it,” says Dr. Jeff Meldrum, an anthropologist and professor at Idaho State University as well as a curator at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. “One of my goals is to establish a base of what we know about Bigfoot and determine if there is enough evidence to warrant serious scientific study. My conclusion, as well as the conclusion of other academics and professionals, is yes, there is something to this. Something is leaving footprints, shedding hair, and vocalizing.”More and more legitimate scientists are starting to open their minds to the notion that there may be an unknown species living in the mountains of North America. George Shaller, one of the pioneers of primate research and the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, has called for a serious scientific inquiry into the Sasquatch phenomenon. Famous primatologist Jane Goodall (inspiration for the movie Gorillas in the Mist) has spoken at Sasquatch seminars and came out on National Public Radio as a Bigfoot believer, telling the reporter, “You’ll be amazed when I tell you I’m sure they exist. I’ve talked to so many Native Americans who all described the same sounds. Two who have seen them…”The most outspoken Sasquatch scientist, however, is Meldrum, who specializes in primate locomotion and evolution. Meldrum has a collection of legitimate evidence that could intrigue even the staunchest skeptic: dozens of hair samples that scientists have not been able to classify as any known mammal, a cornucopia of sighting reports from credible witnesses like Dranginis, and hundreds of footprint casts which, according to Meldrum, are the most convincing pieces of evidence that Bigfoot exists.“There are some questionable casts, as well as some glaring hoaxes, but a heck of a lot of these casts are suggestive of consistent, distinct anatomy,” Meldrum says. “In these footprints, we see a flexible-footed primate, elegantly suited to the environment it finds itself in. It is overwhelmingly the foot of a primate that appears to have evolved and adapted to its environment.”Among the thousands of footprint casts that Meldrum studies, hundreds display the same unique characteristics. They come from all over the country, but have subtle similarities that Meldrum maintains could not be forged. The legitimate Bigfoot footprints all display dermal ridges (similar to a fingerprint, but on the bottom of a primate’s foot), as well as the mid-tarsal break, which suggests a flexible foot. Minute details like these that only a primate anthropologist would recognize have Meldrum convinced that there is a natural, living species behind the footprints.“It’s more incredible to suggest that all of this is the result of an elaborate hoax that spans decades and thousands of miles than it is to suggest there is an unknown species leaving these footprints,” Meldrum says. “Today, you never know if these eyewitnesses are just pulling the descriptions off the web. But stories that leave footprints and shed hair? If these are all fake, if all these people through the decades, across continents, are partaking in a hoax based on remarkably subtle consistencies that only an anthropologist would recognize, then who’s passing out the instruction manual? Who’s telling these people exactly what to do over the last 50 years?”———-BIG FOOT ON MYSPACE“Would you rather have the brain squeeze or the heart punch?” D.B. asks as we huddle together on a gravel forest road, waiting for Bigfoot to come charging through the woods, or scream at the top of his lungs, or throw a rock in our direction.He’s referring to a cheesy “Bigfoot Attacks” horror movie where Sasquatch goes on a killing rampage, squeezing brains and punching people in the heart. There’s a lot of schlock surrounding the Bigfoot phenomenon. For instance, Bigfoot has his own Myspace page. It says Sasquatch likes “breaking sticks, facial hair, and ‘Will and Grace.’”Some Bigfoot enthusiasts believe the creature has mind control and telepathic powers. Others think Bigfoot can walk through portals of time and space. There’s a popular theory that involves an alien race who used the Bigfoot creatures as the building block for a genetic modification project which led to the human race. Others suggest Bigfoot is an offshoot of humanity, a pit stop along the evolutionary journey to our current state.All of this is peripheral static that clouds the true science of Bigfoot research, according to Meldrum.“Bigfoot is not a close relative to people. This species does not rewrite history or evolution—it is simply another great ape,” Meldrum says. “There’s an automatic lumping of Sasquatch with the paranormal, the otherworldly or alien. There’s a stigma involved with this research. Part of the problem is that there is a void in the field left because of the rejection of Bigfoot from the scientific establishment. Into that void steps the amateur investigator. There are a lot of people who are just too enthusiastic, who see Bigfoot everywhere.”Eyewitness reports are usually treated with skepticism because of the “enthusiasm factor,” but the quantity of sightings can’t be ignored. Neither can the locations.“In Idaho, 99 percent of the reported sightings exist in an area of the state that gets 16 inches or more of rain annually,” Meldrum says. “The majority of reports across North America come from similar ecosystems. We’re not seeing reports by certain types of people, but by people who venture into certain types of ecosystems. We don’t get sightings from the deserts of Nevada. The sightings aren’t demographic, but geographic.”The geographic similarities in the sightings help support the leading scientific theory regarding Bigfoot, which involves an ancient species of giant primate who migrated across the Bering land bridge. Gigantopithecus was the largest ape ever to roam the earth. Projections based on molars and partial skeletons recovered in Chinese medicine shops put the primate at 10 feet tall and 1,200 pounds. Researchers believe that climate change and resource competition from early humans either killed off Gigantopithecus, or forced it to migrate into friendlier ecosystems. Several species alive during the same time period migrated across the land bridge between Asia and North America, including certain species of the brown bear.“Gigantopithecus was the right size, in the right location, and lived at the right time to migrate across the land bridge,” Meldrum says. “If the Gigantopithecus was a ground ape of a large size, as it is believed to be, it makes sense that it would have wanted to migrate into these forests.”Certain Native American mythology and artifacts support this theory. Most North American tribes refer to Bigfoot-like creatures. The Sioux called Bigfoot their “elder brother.” The Hopi considered Bigfoot a messenger who appeared in evil times as a warning from the creator. The Anasazi painted petroglyphs of demi-god figures with enlarged hands and feet. Masks created by the Tsimshia Tribes near British Columbia depict monkey faces. Stone heads were carved by Native Americans in the Columbia River Basin that resemble the face of an ape. The heads and masks date from 1500 BCE to 200 AD. If there was never a species of primate living in North America, where did these tribes find primate faces to base their artwork from?In light of the cultural and physical evidence that’s being gathered, there is a thawing in the scientific community in regards to Bigfoot, according to Meldrum. “When you have the likes of Jane Goodall and others taking a “let’s see” attitude, it certainly lends an amount of credibility.”———-A BIG FOOT ENCOUNTERJason Valenti studied to be a minister at Oral Roberts University. He was taught to believe that evolution was just a thin theory and that humans were put on this earth by God’s hand several thousand years ago. He believed these things without question until the night he saw a Bigfoot creature on the side of the road in northern Florida.“I was driving outside of Tallahassee with a friend,” Valenti says. “We got lost and took a wrong road through the national forest. It was about 4am, but both of us were wide awake. When I saw the creature first, I thought it was an Irish Setter chasing its tail on the side of the road. So I put my brights on. Then the thing stood up. She was 6’8”, maybe 7’. Her hip came to the top of the door jamb of the truck. It was a big creature, hair on its chest. It stumbled backwards, mouth open, hands covering its face. You could see the muscles in her arms, the tendons. She had incredibly wide shoulders, no neck, and sort of an hourglass figure. Primates are incredibly furry, but in places, you could see patches of skin, like the palms of her hands. She had such human-looking hands, it made me wonder what this thing was. She dropped down, bringing her fists to the ground, and she did a standing broad jump, twisting in the air and jumping 30 feet away. She hit the ground and immediately jumped again, and she was gone. Humans just don’t have any comprehension about how fast these things can move. They move like lightning.“My friend and I sat in complete silence the whole way home. We didn’t talk about it for another year, until I got to the point where I was beginning to doubt it ever happened. Eventually, I told everyone at church and they all thought I was possessed by a demon. I couldn’t stop obsessing about it.”The sighting made Valenti question everything he had been taught to believe within his church—if evolution was not true, then what was this thing that was so human-like, yet so animal-like as well? Valenti left the church and moved to Oregon to study Bigfoot full-time.“I had to start a whole new life because of my sighting. It blew my belief system into pieces,” Valenti says.“I’m using Bigfoot as a springboard into something so fantastic and amazing. I’m looking for answers as to why the human race has appeared out of nowhere like it has. I’m interested in Bigfoot because of where it leads us theologically. I want to prove the existence of Bigfoot so we can move on to the bigger questions.”———-THE LION EATERVillagers in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo tell stories of a giant ape that kills lions. Legend has it, the apes are seven feet tall with large black faces. They catch fish and howl at the moon, walk on two feet, and hunt in packs. Aside from a few footprints and some questionable first-person accounts, these legends were all primatologists had to go on when they embarked on a massive search of the Congo for these giant apes in 2003. A massive primate species in the Congo intrigued scientists, since no known species of chimpanzee had reached the epic size described, and the nearest gorilla population in Africa was thousands of miles away.Researchers descended upon the Congo in droves, armed with the latest technology and hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants. Several months later, they discovered the Bili Ape, a giant chimpanzee, larger than any other chimp or gorilla, that has developed a completely new chimpanzee culture due to their isolated habitat. The Bili Ape isn’t a relative of Bigfoot or Gigantopithecus, but it proves two things: Large primates like Bigfoot do still exist, and sometimes, legends are more than just stories.The massive chimps (chimps are the closest evolutionary relative to humans) occasionally walk on two feet, sleep on the ground, and use rocks to smash the shells of turtles and snails to gain access to meat. Scientists believe these chimps have developed a completely different culture, departing from chimpanzee norms. Given the Bili Ape’s distinct and highly developed “smashing culture,” some even believe they are catching evolution in the act.“What’s interesting about the Bili Ape is the evidence the researchers had on hand,” Meldrum says. “Oversized footprints, nests, local lore. This is the same kind of evidence we have for the existence of the Sasquatch, only in the case of the Bili Ape, there was much less of it. Still, the evidence warranted huge grants and interest from mainstream anthropologists.”What will it take to send mainstream anthropologists into the forests of North America looking for a similar species of giant ape? Considering there has never been a record of an ape species living in North America, it’s going to take a dead body. The fact that no hunter has ever shot a Bigfoot and strapped it to the hood of his truck is the most damning piece of evidence against the theory of an unknown species of ape lurking in North America’s forests.“Where’s the body?” Dranginis asks as we watch the woods through his thermal camera. There are no heat signatures on the screen—nothing but white trees and bushes. “I honestly don’t know why we’ve never come across a dead Sasquatch. I’m working with a statistician to examine this. Assuming there are a certain number of Sasquatch out there, assuming a certain number will get struck by lightning or have a tree fall on them, or get shot and crawl off to die, what is the probability of coming across one in the woods? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”Based on eyewitness reports and legitimate footprint casts, Meldrum puts the entire Sasquatch population at about 500 for all of North America, which he believes is large enough to sustain reproduction without inbreeding, given the numbers of other species of ape. Factor in the low number of the animals, the expanse of North America’s wildlands, and the 35-50-year life expectancy of an ape species in that size range, and Meldrum doesn’t see the lack of a body to be that damning of a feature.“When you’ve only got one or two Sasquatch dying in a given year in all of North America, what are the odds of finding a carcass?” Meldrum asks. “We’re looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.”———-THE FINAL FRONTIERDranginis and I sit in our camping chairs on the edge of the Rappahannock and listen to Bigfoot’s howl pierce the woods in front of us. It sounds like a coyote, or a werewolf howling at the moon. The noise comes from D.B.’s speaker blast, and the sound quality is excellent.A number of Bigfoot calls have been recorded over the years, and “vocalizations” are one of the more puzzling pieces of evidence that Bigfoot exists. The call D.B. is blasting is known as the “Illinois Howl.” The most famous Bigfoot vocalization is actually a series of recordings known as “Sierra Sounds,” which is periodical Bigfoot chatter recorded over a period of years in the Sierra Nevadas. The chatter has been tested by a number of linguists, sound engineers, and wildlife experts, all of whom have determined that the vocalizations did not match any known animal and could not be human because of the vocal range.We sit, quiet and still, and wait for a response. Nothing. No repeated howl. No scream in response. No call back.“Tonight, there are maybe ten other people in the entire United States doing this exact same thing,” Dranginis says, filling the night with his voice. “When I first got the thermal camera, I thought I’d see the creatures everywhere, but nothing. It’s been 13 years and I’ve never had another sighting.”The skeptic would say that Dranginis never had a sighting in the first place. What he and the two FBI agents saw 13 years ago was a psychological event, or a massive bear, or a man in a suit—anything but a seven-foot-tall ape that walks on two feet. The reluctance to believe these Bigfoot sightings, hair samples, footprints, local legends, and legitimate scientists is understandable given the well-traveled terrain of North America. Our highway systems are expansive, our suburbs are sprawling. Only 5% of America’s old growth forest remains intact—we’ve cut down the rest. How could a species of giant ape go undetected during the systematic clearing of our forests over the last 100 years?“The attitude that every nook and cranny of North America has been explored is frustrating,” Meldrum says. “A lot of people don’t have a sense of the vastness of our forests. There are a lot of places that I’m quite sure have not seen a human footprint.”In the Southeast, more old growth is being discovered every year. More importantly, species that were previously driven out of our region are returning, like the coyote, cougar, and red wolf. Perhaps Bigfoot is undergoing a similar migration. Perhaps the great apes have hidden in the small pockets of untouched forests for decades and are only now coming back home.For fun, I pick up the thermal camera and train it on the forest in front of us. The trees register a stone white. The pond has cooled down in the few hours we’ve been staking out the area, shifting from a warm pink to a cool gray. Everything on the thermal screen is now a cold, white hue. There is no Sasquatch in front of us, but according to Meldrum and others, that doesn’t mean there is no Sasquatch.last_img read more