Sharon Kelly

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Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

EPA Scientists Consider Dropping "Widespread, Systemic" Language from National Study Findings

A phrase in the Executive Summary of EPA's national study on the threat that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies has come under increasing fire from environmentalists and scientists.

The EPA's draft executive summary, released this fall, included a line that has been widely quoted by supporters of the shale gas rush: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have lead to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

There are signs that the EPA's scientific advisors, currently engaged in a peer-review of the study, are now backing away from that phrasing, emphasizing instead the fact that drinking water supplies have been impacted at times, and that many factors, like sealed legal settlements and trade secrecy, have kept information out of the public eye.

"Abandoned" by EPA, Landowers from Dimock, Pavillion, Parker County Demand Inclusion in EPA National Fracking Study

For the past five years, the EPA has undertaken a highly-consequential national study on the impacts that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can have on American drinking water supplies.

The agency will look to the results of this program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing,” EPA said in a 2013 statement.

This June, the national study's draft assessment was released to the public, and while hundreds of spills, accidents, and even cases where fracking itself directly contaminated underground aquifers (a method of pollution that the oil industry had long argued had never happened) were reported by EPA, it was a phrase from the agency's press release that drew the attention of the national media: “hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

EPA Moves to Require Gas Processing Plants, for First Time, to Make Hazardous Emissions Public

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to require natural gas processing plants to start complying with federal toxic chemical disclosure laws, in response to a lawsuit and petition filed by a collection of environmental and transparency advocates.

A record-setting 19 trillion cubic feet of gas was processed by these plants — over 550 of which dot the country — last year, representing a rise in volume of 32 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Department. The EPA now estimates that over half of these plants release more than 10,000 pounds of toxic chemicals each year, making their pollution substantial enough to require federal attention.

Worries Build Among Investors Over Oil and Gas Industry’s Exposure to Water and Climate Risks

When it comes to financial risks surrounding water, there is one industry that, according to a new report, is both among the most exposed to these risks and the least transparent to investors about them: the oil and gas industry.

This year, 1,073 of the world’s largest publicly listed companies faced requests from institutional investors concerned about the companies’ vulnerability to water-related risks that they disclose their plans for adapting and responding to issues like drought or water shortages.

A New Kind of Frackademia? New Environmental Inspectors Offered Free Industry-Funded Classes on Fracking

At an industry conference in Philadelphia last month, oil and gas executives gathered to hear about a little-known public relations effort with a very precise target: newly hired state and federal environmental inspectors.

At a seminar titled “Staying Ahead of Federal and State Regulations: A Partnership with Academia and Government,” officials from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas described how gifts from companies like ExxonMobil allowed their universities, along with the Colorado School of Mines, to offer state regulators free classes on oil industry best practices, travel and accommodations included.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani Offers Fracking Industry PR Strategy, Draws Three Mile Island Parallels

At a shale industry conference in Philadelphia, former New York City mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani offered up advice to drilling companies struggling with an oil price collapse and increasing public awareness of the damage that fracking can do to air, water, the climate and the economy.

And you do face a public relations problem,” Giuiliani told the gathered shale executives. “And the public relations problem that you face is that a lot of people dismiss the whole shale revolution from a standpoint of being afraid of it.”

They're irrationally afraid of it,” he said. “But they're afraid.”

Extremist Heartland Institute Attacks Pope Francis On Climate, Claims Paganism Has Entered Catholic Church

A string of mystical and dire warnings about the Catholic Church were issued by Heartland Institute officials and supporters at a press conference last week in Philadelphia, where Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive this weekend.

Claims of pagan influence over the Pope and conspiracies by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to suppress climate data were aired by a panel of Heartland Institute speakers.

There are elements of nature worship, and I would say that contrary to some of the criticism, that this is not communism that has entered the church, it is rather paganism,” Gene Koprowski, marketing director for the Heartland Institute warned a collection of reporters.

Exclusive: Battle Over Flaming Water and Fracking Reignites As Analysis Prompts Call for Renewed EPA Investigation

At the heart of the international controversy over fracking has been the contention that the oil and gas drilling technique can contaminate people's drinking water, sometimes even causing it to light on fire. One poster child for this claim has been Steven Lipsky, a Texas homeowner who has appeared in a viral video with a garden hose spewing flames and says his water was fouled by fracking.

For years, Mr. Lipsky has fought legal battles — most often with federal EPA investigators finding his claims of contamination credible, while Texas regulators and the drilling company, Range Resources, taking the opposite view.

An analysis released this week, describing research by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, may open this case once again. It offers new evidence that the tests taken at Mr. Lipsky's well water by Range Resources and Texas regulators, who reported little or no contamination, were flawed and potentially inaccurate.

Radioactivity Found in Pennsylvania Creek, Illegal Fracking Waste Dumping Suspected

Recently released testing results in western Pennsylvania, upstream from Pittsburgh, reveal evidence of radioactive contamination in water flowing from an abandoned mine. Experts say that the radioactive materials may have come from illegal dumping of shale fracking wastewater.

Regulators had previously found radioactivity levels that exceeded EPA's drinking water standards over 60-fold in waters in the same area, which is roughly 3 miles upstream from a drinking water intake, but those test results were only made public after a local environmental group obtained them through open records requests.

Texas Family's Water Well Explodes, Burns 4-Year Old, Father and Grandfather -- and Fracking to Blame, Lawsuit Alleges

A family in Texas, including a four-year old, her parents and her grandfather, were severely burned when their water well ignited into a massive fireball after methane from nearby fracked wells contaminated their water supply, a newly filed lawsuit against EOG Resources and several related companies alleges.

Cody Murray, a 38-year old who previously worked in the oil and gas industry, suffered burns to his face, arms, neck and back that were so severe that he was left permanently disabled, no longer able to drive because the nerve damage has left him unable to grip steering wheels or other objects. Cody's young daughter, who was over 20 feet away from the pump house when it ignited, suffered first and second degree burns, as did Jim Murray, Cody's father.

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