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 Guardian, 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.

Blame Sunspots: Climate Science Denial Continues at Shale Gas Pipeline Industry Conference

Read time: 7 mins
Marcellus Utica Midstream conference presentation

Last month, 11,258 scientists from virtually every country in the world published a study on climate change, writing that they collectively declared “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

That comes six years after a widely cited 2013 study reported 97 percent agreement among publishing climate scientists that human activity causes climate change — a consensus that has grown stronger in the years since. John Cook, lead author of that study, described this summer a 99 percent scientific consensus that humans cause global warming.

Despite this widespread scientific agreement, shale pipeline executives attending this year’s Marcellus Utica Midstream conference last week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, siteheard a very different message on the climate.

New Documents Reveal Exxon-owned Canadian Oil Giant's Shifting Climate Change PR

Read time: 9 mins
Imperial Oil gas station

It was 1971, less than a year after the world’s first Earth Day, and in Canada an oil giant was worried.

Public concern regarding environmental problems is being translated into legislation rapidly,” Imperial Oil warned in an annual research planning document dated January of that year. “The present trend in legislation will require substantial expenditures to reduce emissions and waste discharge for all facilities and reduce the impact on the environment of the products we sell.”

Chesapeake Energy’s Stock Falls Below $1 But Driller Plans to Spend Over $1 Billion on More Fracking

Read time: 7 mins

The company that for the past decade has been emblematic of the rise and pitfalls of shale drilling and fracking, Chesapeake Energy, saw its stock price collapse today, plunging by 29.15 percent in a single day.

At the end of the day on November 6, a share in Chesapeake (NYSE:CHK) was worth less than a buck, priced at $0.91.

Fossil Fuel Investments Cost California and Colorado Pension Funds Over $19 Billion, Report Finds

Read time: 7 mins

California and Colorado’s public pension funds together lost out on over $19 billion over the past decade by investing in fossil fuel stocks, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The three public pension funds analyzed are currently worth a combined $663 billion. However, if they’d divested from fossil companies in 2009 while keeping their other investments at the same proportions, they could have amassed a combined additional $19 billion in ten years, the report published by Corporate Knights, a Canadian media, research and financial firm, concludes.

Public Health Experts Flunk Report Tying Pennsylvania Air Quality Improvements to Gas Drilling

Read time: 9 mins
A girl kicks a soccer ball on a playground near an oil and gas well pad in Pennsylvania

America’s air seems to have taken a turn for the worse, according to recent scientific research. Last week, a nationwide study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) found that the country’s air quality deteriorated in 2017 and 2018 — a dramatic reversal of improvements recorded over the prior seven years.

Today, the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) — an organization funded by oil and gas producers — released their own report that presents a different narrative about energy production and air quality in Pennsylvania, a state that’s become one of the nation’s largest producers of fossil fuels.

CEA's report first points to a drop in some types of air pollution in Pennsylvania between 1990 and 2016 and next to a rise in natural gas production in the state from 2010 to 2018.

But a look at the data presented inside that report — a two-page infographic drawing on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Information Administration — shows that connecting more drilling to less pollution is deeply misleading, public health experts said.

As Drillers Continue Poor Financial Performance, Shale Insight Hosts Trump Speech Touting Fossil Energy Future

Read time: 8 mins
Trump at Shale Insight

When candidate Donald Trump arrived in Pittsburgh at the Shale Insight conference in 2016, he arrived with a message for the gathered shale executives: I will roll back regulation, especially environmental regulation, and you — your industry — will thrive like you were never able to under Obama.

I'm going to lift the restrictions on American energy,” he promised the crowd, “and allow this wealth to pour into our communities, including right here in the state of Pennsylvania that we love.”

“Oh, you will like me so much,” he added.

Washington Petrochemical Plant Subsidies Would Violate Federal ‘Double Dipping’ Rules Say Environmental Groups

Read time: 7 mins
Kalama methanol plant site

A plan to build a natural gas–fueled petrochemical plant in Kalama, Washington, ran into a new legal hurdle last week, as a coalition of environmental groups raised new objections to its construction.

The Port of Kalama methanol plant, if built on the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon, would expand North America’s capacity to export products produced by fracked shale gas wells, and is part of a $5.2 billion plan to develop methanol plants in this corner of the Pacific Northwest. It has applied for funding from a controversial Department of Energy “Advanced Fossil Energy Projects” program — an $8.5 billion fund offering taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

Oil Industry Set Agenda During Climate Summit Meeting with Big Greens

Read time: 9 mins
Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments

Last week, as climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the United Nations Climate Action Summit, invited leaders from major environmental groups spent their day listening to the leaders of fossil fuel companies discuss how they want to respond to the climate crisis.

Depending on which room you were in, you would have heard two very different messages.

Fossil Fuel Ad Campaigns Emphasize 'Positives' After Climate Science Denial PR Lands Industry in Hot Seat

Read time: 7 mins
Oil rig at sunset over Huntington Beach, California

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.  

Public relations experts keep a careful eye on the multitude of ways that PR can go wrong: tracking the year’s biggest “PR blunders,” assessing flopped ads for lessons learned, and noting when to remain silent and when to circulate a particular point of view.

PR blunders have been blamed for causing stock prices to dip, powerful executives to lose jobs, and occasionally even forced public apologies from PR representatives themselves.

But it takes a special kind of PR nightmare — a particularly unusual kind in the U.S., with its broad protections for free speech — to prompt investigations by state attorneys general into whether a company’s public messaging was so misleading and harmful that it should be considered illegal.

That is the situation facing one of the world’s most powerful industries, on one of the most consequential issues of our time, climate change. The subject of these investigations isn’t the direct harm from the fossil fuel industry’s actions, it’s the ways that companies communicated about their actions, and how that misled investors or the public.

And right on cue, the fossil fuel industry's PR professionals have been stepping in to help reshape the narratives propping up their bottom lines.

Cheap Renewables Could Make 90% of Proposed Gas Power Plants — and Many Pipelines — Obsolete by 2035

Read time: 12 mins
Texas windmills

There’s one big reason that analysts say America’s electrical power should soon run on clean energy sources like wind and solar rather than fossil fuels like coal and natural gas: your power bill.

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