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.

Former Inspectors Describe Dangerous Flaws in Construction of Major East Coast Gas Pipeline

In April, a massive explosion ripped through rural Salem Township, Pennsylvania when natural gas from a pipeline buried in a field suddenly ignited.

The Salem Township explosion offers a glimpse at how dangerous a natural gas pipeline accident can be — the blast when the 30-inch pipeline ignited blew a 12-foot deep hole in the ground and scorched 40 acres, sending one man to the hospital with burns on 75 percent of his body.

“It looked like you were looking down into hell,” a local fire chief, Bob Rosatti, told ABC News. “As far across my windshield as I could see was just a massive fireball.”

Taxpayer Groups, Environmentalists, Students Call on Congress to End $4 Billion Annual Oil Industry Subsidies

In an open letter sent to Congress today, a coalition of 40 national taxpayer, labor, environmental and other groups called on the federal government to repeal almost $4 billion in annual tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, calling them wasteful and lambasting Congress for subsidizing activities that will make climate change worse.

The groups called on Senators to support the FAIR Energy Policy Act, which would slowly phase out nine special tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

“Oil companies receive billions in tax breaks, despite being among the world’s largest and most profitable corporations,” the groups wrote. “For too long, America has subsidized the oil industry’s bottom line at middle class Americans’ expense.”

Another law passed earlier this year revokes the wind industry's production tax credit, and the FAIR Energy Policy Act would wind down some of the oil industry's subsidies on the same schedule.

If we are phasing out tax credits for clean energy—something I oppose—then why are we still committing to permanently support the fossil fuel industries with tax preferences they don’t need?” said Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii who sponsored that bill.  “It is based on the very simple idea that there should be a level playing field for fossil fuels and clean energy.”

SEC Charges "Frack Master" Chris Faulkner, Shale CEO and Industry Advocate, with $80 Million Fraud

At the start of June, Chris Faulkner, Chief Executive Officer of Breitling Energy, was a high-flying shale company executive and media darling, often interviewed on CNN, Fox Business News and even the BBC. During his most recent appearance on CNN on June 2nd, he weighed in on the financial prospects for drillers who survive low oil prices despite the spate of bankruptcies sweeping the shale industry.

It was hardly the first time the Texas oilman aired his views on the national stage. “The era of coal is coming to an end,” Mr. Faulkner told The New York Times in June 2014. “We are entering the era of natural gas.”

“Instead of rejecting promising new energy-extraction techniques, citizens should work with responsible energy companies to preserve the benefits of fracking, while stamping out current abuses,” he said in the Wall Street Journal in August of the same year.

High-Level EPA Adviser Accused of Scientific Fraud in Methane Leak Research

It's one of the highest-stakes debates in the battle over climate change policy action: how much methane is spewing from oil and gas sites nationwide, and what do we do as a result? If enough of the odorless, colorless methane gas leaks or is vented into the air, scientists say, then burning natural gas — marketed as a green fuel that can help wean the U.S. off of high-carbon fuels — will actually be worse for the climate than coal, long seen as the fuel that contributes the most to global warming.

Recently, over 100 community and environmental groups sent a letter urging the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog to investigate claims that a top methane researcher had committed scientific fraud and charging that he had made false and misleading statements to the press in response to those claims.

Earlier this month, NC WARN, an environmental group, presented the EPA Inspector General with evidence it said showed that key research on methane leaks was tainted, and that one of the EPA's top scientific advisors fraudulently concealed evidence that a commonly-used tool for collecting data from oil and gas wells gives artificially low methane measurements.

High Levels of Chemicals Found in People Living Near Gas Wells: New Report

Chemicals from gas wells were discovered in biological samples drawn from residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, at levels as much as ten times the national averages, according to a new report. The study is the first to sample both the air near drilling sites and the levels of chemicals in people living and working near those wells, allowing researchers to study the ways that toxic air pollutants are entering people's bodies near gas wells and putting their health at risk.

The researchers found evidence of 16 potentially dangerous chemicals in 11 individuals who volunteered to participate in the study by wearing air monitors and providing blood and urine samples. They found benzene, toluene, 2-heptanone, 4 heptanone and evidence of roughly a dozen other substances — including some known to be quite dangerous and others for which little safety information is available.

New Federal Report Shows Dimock Water Unsafe

Back in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a startling announcement, shaking up the battle over fracking in one of the nation's highest-profile cases where drillers were suspected to have caused water contamination.

Water testing results were in for homeowners along Carter Road in Dimock, PA, where for years, homeowners reported their water had turned brown, became flammable, or started clogging their well with “black greasy feeling sediment” after Cabot Oil and Gas began drilling in the area. The EPA seemed to conclude the water wasn't so bad after all.

 “The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said in a press release.

The drilling industry crowed. “The data released today once again confirms the EPA's and DEP's findings that levels of contaminants found do not possess a threat to human health and the environment,” Cabot said in a statement.

It’s obviously very good news for the folks who actually live there, and pretty squarely in line with what we’ve known up there for a while now,” Energy in Depth told POLITICOPro. “It’s not very good news for the out-of-state folks who have sought to use Dimock as a talking point in their efforts to prevent development elsewhere, but I’m sure they’ll be working hard over the weekend to spin it differently, notwithstanding the pretty clear statement made by EPA today.”

Now, a newly published report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), puts EPA's testing results into an entirely new light.

Oil and Gas Activities Behind Texas Earthquakes Since 1925, Scientists Conclude

If you've felt an earthquake in Texas at any point over the last four decades, odds are that quake wasn't naturally occurring, but was caused by oil and gas industry activities, according to a newly published scientific report.

Just 13 percent of Texas earthquakes larger than magnitude 3 since 1975 were the result of natural causes alone, according to scientists from the University of Texas who published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

In recent years, fracking wastewater injection wells have become the primary cause of tremblors in the state, the report adds.

Fracking's Air Pollution Puts Infants and Children at Risk of Developing Heart, Lung Problems: New Study

A newly published peer-reviewed study concludes that air pollution from fracking puts people's lungs, hearts, and immune systems at risk – and that the health risks are particularly pointed for young children and infants.

The study — the first to specifically focus on how shale oil and gas drilling affects children ability to breathe — concludes that starting in the womb, children's developing respiratory systems are particularly at risk from five airborne pollutants associated with fracking and drilling.

Duke Study Finds A "Legacy of Radioactivity," Contamination from Thousands of Fracking Wastewater Spills

Thousands of oil and gas industry wastewater spills in North Dakota have caused “widespread” contamination from radioactive materials, heavy metals and corrosive salts, putting the health of people and wildlife at risk, researchers from Duke University concluded in a newly released peer-reviewed study.

Some rivers and streams in North Dakota now carry levels of radioactive and toxic materials higher than federal drinking water standards as a result of wastewater spills, the scientists found after testing near spills. Many cities and towns draw their drinking water from rivers and streams, though federal law generally requires drinking water to be treated before it reaches peoples' homes, and the scientists did not test tap water as part of their research. 

High levels of lead — the same heavy metal that infamously contaminated water in Flint, Michigan — as well as the radioactive element radium, were discovered near spill sites. One substance, selenium, was found in the state's waters at levels as high as 35 times the federal thresholds set to protect fish, mussels, and other wildlife, including those that people eat.

Fracking Pollution Raising the Earth's Levels of Ethane, Bakken Oilfield Is Largely to Blame

The Bakken shale oilfield is single-handedly responsible for most of a mysterious global rise in atmospheric ethane — a pollutant that can harm human health and heat the atmosphere further — peer-reviewed research published last week reveals.

The Bakken, which stretches from North Dakota and Montana into Canada, has made headlines over the past decade for its sudden drilling boom (and an equally sudden job market bust as oil prices have plunged over the past year).

But while the drilling boom made North Dakota the nation's second largest oil-producing state, the amount of hydrocarbons leaking and being deliberately vented from the oil field may have been enough to alter the composition of the Earth's atmosphere slightly, reversing a long-running decline in ethane levels worldwide.