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 Massey CEO Don Blankenship Sentenced to One Year in Prison For Conspiracy to Evade Mining Safety Rules

Disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship received the maximum possible sentence today for his misdemeanor conspiracy conviction, in a criminal case spurred by the Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia in 2009.

Mr. Blankenship was acquitted in December of three felony charges over his direct personal responsibility for those deaths. But he was convicted on conspiracy to violate federal mining safety standards. Today, a federal judge handed down a sentence of one year in prison, plus a year of probation and a fine of $250,000 for Mr. Blankenship's crimes.

Had he been convicted of all charges, Mr. Blankenship would have faced a maximum of over thirty years.

For over a quarter century, Mr. Blankenship ruled with an iron fist as the notoriously aggressive former head of Massey Energy, one of the nation's largest coal mining companies.

Dimock Water Contamination Verdict Prompts Calls for Federal Action on Fracking

Last week, in a historic verdict, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $4.24 million to two families in Dimock, PA who sued a shale gas driller, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., over negligent drilling that contaminated their drinking water supplies.

Dimock has for years been one the nation's highest-profile cases where shale gas drilling and fracking was suspected to have contaminated water, a claim the oil and gas industry strenuously denied. Controversy over the water quality swirled as state and federal regulators repeatedly flip-flopped over who was responsible for the water contamination — and whether the water might even be safe to drink.

For years, Cabot Oil and Gas has maintained that the problems with the water were simply cosmetic or aesthetic, and that even if the water was not good, their operations in the area had nothing to do with it.

The federal jury's verdict last Thursday represents a legal conclusion that the water was in fact contaminated because of the negligence of the drilling company — no small matter for those who spent years living in a deeply fractured community where emotions over the shale rush have run high and pitted neighbor against neighbor.

The verdict also has broader ramifications for the national debate over shale drilling and water contamination.

BREAKING: $4.2 Million Jury Verdict Against Cabot Oil & Gas in Dimock, PA Water Contamination Lawsuit

A Pennsylvania jury handed down a $4.24 million verdict in a lawsuit centering on water contamination from negligent shale gas drilling in Dimock, PA, a tiny town that made international headlines for its flammable and toxic drinking water.

Following Sudden Death of Indicted Former Chesapeake Energy CEO, Justice Department Investigation into Collusion Continues

Last Tuesday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, stemming from an alleged lease bid-rigging conspiracy between McClendon and another unidentified oil and gas company. The felony count against McClendon carried up to a decade in prison and $1 million in fines.

Shortly after 9 AM the next day, McClendon crashed his SUV at over 50 mph into a concrete highway overpass and died instantly of blunt force trauma. Police are continuing to investigate McClendon's cause of death, awaiting toxicology results and other data, and have not ruled out the possibility that the car wreck may have been a suicide.

“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Paco Balderrama told a local NBC affiliate. “There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”

The dramatic exit of one of the most flamboyant wildcatters in the shale rush stunned many observers — and his abrupt death may serve to pull attention away from the underlying crimes that McClendon was so recently accused of committing. The acts McClendon, age 56, stood accused of occurred at the height of the shale land rush and were committed in his role as then-CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the nation's second largest natural gas producer.

Before McClendon died, Forbes writer Chris Helman noticed something very interesting in the former CEO's response to his indictment: McClendon didn't deny the acts underlying the charges, he simply argued that others in oil and gas industry also engaged in the same conduct.

Proposed Marcellus Gas Pipeline Sparks Protest At Prized Maple Farm

Plans to build a major Marcellus shale gas pipeline were briefly paused this month by a protest launched by a collection of community and environmental activists who gathered on the Holleran-Zeffer property in New Milford, PA.

Pipeline company Williams Partners, LLC plans to start clearing trees on the property as early as this week to make way for a proposed 124-mile pipeline stretching across the Pennsylvania-New York border.

Tree felling for Williams' Constitution pipeline project began in Pennsylvania on February 5, before New York state had finished its regulatory approval process. Environmentalists fear that the company hopes to present New York state with a fait accompli on the Pennsylvania side, which would put pressure on New York regulators to approve the expansion on its side of the border.

High-Profile Trial Begins in Dimock, PA Water Contamination Case

Trial began this week in a case alleging that an oil and gas company contaminated drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The tiny town is now internationally notorious over claims that drilling and fracking tainted people's drinking water and caused it to become flammable.

This lawsuit is the first such case out of Dimock to reach a jury, nearly a decade after many residents of Carter Road, a short stretch of dirt road in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, first noticed that their water seemed to have gone bad.

“We haven't had clean water since he was in kindergarten,” Monica Marta-Ely told reporters during a press conference outside the courthouse on Monday, as she gestured to her 13 year-old son, Jared. “He's in 7th grade now.”

It's a legal case that is as noticeable for the allegations being tried —  that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. negligently contaminated the water supplying Nolan Scott Ely and his family and that living without water for years was a serious nuisance for the Elys and the Huberts, a family living in a trailer on the Ely's land — as for the claims and evidence that the jury will not hear.

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.

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