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.

Oil Industry Caused 2005 Swarm of California Earthquakes: Newly Published Study

Oil and gas wastewater disposal has been tied to a series of earthquakes in California for the first time, in a peer-reviewed study published last Thursday.

A string of quakes ending on Sept. 22, 2005 struck in Kern County near the southern end of California's Central Valley  – and the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, concluded that the odds that those quakes might have occurred by chance were just 3 percent.

Instead, the researchers honed in on a very specific set of culprits: three wastewater injection wells in the Tejon Oil Field. Between 2001 and 2010, the rate of wastewater injection at that oil field quintupled, and up to 95 percent of that wastewater was sent to just that trio of closely-spaced wells, the scientists noted.

Seven Arrested at Pennsylvania Pipeline Planning Meeting

In Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, the push to build out pipeline infrastructure that would transport gas and oil is meeting growing grassroots resistance, with protesters disrupting a meeting of Governor Tom Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force yesterday.

Seven people, who described themselves as frontline residents of shale drilling regions, were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after interrupting the public comment portion of the Task Force's final meeting. That task force is expected to issue 184 recommendations for streamlining the pipeline permitting process and mitigating impacts of construction in a 335-page report.

Over the next decade, roughly 30,000 miles of pipeline could be constructed in Pennsylvania, the state projects, part of a national pipeline build-out that has followed in the wake of the shale drilling rush.

Aging Infrastructure, Fracking Eyed in Massive Porter Ranch, California Methane Leak

It's been nearly three months since the Aliso Canyon gas leak in the upscale community of Porter Ranch, CA was first discovered — and, even as that gas continues to spew into the atmosphere, experts are calling attention to the risks that aging fossil fuel infrastructure poses nationwide.

Events of this size are rare, but major leakage across the oil and gas supply chain is not,” Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Oil & Gas Program Tim O’Connor said in a statement last month. “There are plenty of mini-Aliso Canyons that add up to a big climate problem — not just in California, but across the country.”

Obama Slams Climate Deniers in State of the Union, Vague On Details For Action

White House SOTU 2016

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama made climate change one of the major themes of the evening, ridiculing those who would deny that climate change is a problem — and one that can be addressed through curbing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it,” the President said in his prepared remarks. “You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

The President drew parallels between the difficulties of slashing climate change and one of the most famous scientific and engineering challenges in American history, the race to put a man on the moon.

Coal Mining's Financial Failures: Two Thirds of World's Production Now Unprofitable

Sixty-five percent of the world's coal production is unprofitable at today's prices, a new research report by Wood Mackenzie, a commercial intelligence company often cited by investment analysts and the coal industry itself, concluded.

Both major types of coal — the coking coal used for making steel and the thermal coal burned in coal-fired electrical power plants — were included in Wood Mackenzie's analysis. The estimate may be conservative, as the group excluded some costs incurred during mining, and focused primarily on the sharp drop in the price of coal.

"Bait and Switch": Pennsylvania Sues Driller and Pipeline Company Over Deceptive Deals

Pennsylvania's beleaguered top prosecutor has filed a civil action against two of the nation's largest oil and gas companies, Chesapeake Energy and pipeline company Williams Partners LP, alleging that the companies defrauded over 4,000 property owners out of the royalties owed for shale oil and gas produced from their land.

“This alleged conduct amounts to a 'bait-and-switch,'” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a statement. “Pennsylvania landowners were deceived in thousands of transactions by a company accused of similar conduct in several other states,” she added, referring to Chesapeake Energy, which has faced class actions in Texas, Louisiana and Ohio over its royalty payments.

Western State Regulators Struggling to Keep up with Radioactive Fracking and Drilling Waste: New Report

The question of how to handle the toxic waste from fracking and other oil and gas activities is one of the most intractable issues confronting environmental regulators. Not only because of the sheer volume of waste generated nationwide, but also because some of the radioactive materials involved have a half-life of over 1,500 years, making the consequences of decision-making today especially long-lasting.

Every year, the oil and gas industry generates roughly 21 billion barrels of wastewater and millions of tons of solid waste, much of it carrying a mix of naturally occurring radioactive materials, and some of it bearing so much radioactive material that it is not safe to drink or even, on far more rare occasions, to simply have it near you.

Despite Low Oil Prices, Renewable Power Gaining Traction, Energy Agencies Report — But Not Yet Fast Enough for the Climate

The shift away from coal and towards renewable sources of energy is slowly beginning to gain traction, two recently-released reports from American and global energy agencies show.

The biggest story is in the case of renewables,” International Energy Agency executive director, Fatih Birol, told the Guardian as this year's World Energy Outlook was released. “It is no longer a niche. Renewable energy has become a mainstream fuel, as of now.”

Almost half of the new power generation added in 2014 came from wind, solar, wave or tidal energy, the report found, and renewables now represent the world's second largest source of electricity after coal. Coal, whose share of the world's energy mix has been rising since 2000, has peaked, the agency indicated, predicting that within two decades, renewable energy sources will replace coal as the backbone of the world's electricity source.

Water Pollution Trading Programs Under Fire as Report Finds Lax Oversight, "Shell Games" Put Waterways at Risk

A little-noticed federally-backed program is chipping away at the foundation of the Clean Water Act, one of the nation's core environmental laws, allowing major polluters to evade responsibility for contaminating rivers, streams and other waterways, an environmental group said in a report released Thursday.

So called “water quality trading” programs have quietly spread into more than 20 states, the report said, with a goal of establishing a water pollution credit trading market — essentially a cap-and-trade system, like those controversially proposed for climate change, but covering the dumping of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus into America's waterways.

Those nutrients are behind algae blooms that suck oxygen out of water supplies, killing fish and other wildlife and sometimes making people sick. The EPA calls nutrient pollution “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems” and warns that the hazards are likely to grow worse as the climate warms.

Programs to trade credits for nutrient pollution are still relatively small scale, but have gained the backing of the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. They are based on the idea that a free market can help identify the cheapest ways to cut pollution in a watershed.

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.

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