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.

Oil Industry’s Shift to Plastics in Question as Report Warns $400 Billion in Stranded Assets Possible

Read time: 11 mins
plastic bag caught in a barbed wire fence

Off Africa’s eastern coast, north of Madagascar, lies Aldabra Atoll, a cluster of coral islands that surround a tropical lagoon.

Aldabra is a UN World Heritage Site that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife, including tens of thousands of wild giant tortoises, far more tortoises than in the Galapagos Islands. Sir David Attenborough, the documentary filmmaker, has called Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world.” The atoll is exceedingly difficult to visit, not only because it’s so remote, but also because new arrivals must contend with a $225 per-visitor daily environmental impact fee — as well as piracy in the region.

This wild, protected place is also, according to newly published research from Oxford University, littered with over 500 tons of plastic waste.

‘That’s the Way It Is’: Trump’s Dismissal of Hurricane Laura and Climate Crisis Echoes Remarks on COVID-19 Deaths

Read time: 11 mins
Home in Louisiana damaged by Hurricane Laura

At an August 30 briefing in Orange, Texas, during a visit to tour damage from Hurricane Laura, President Trump answered a question about climate change and hurricanes. Texas has had big storms for a long time, he said, and “that’s the way it is.”

The phrase carried echoes of his remarks on COVID-19 — made at a time when the coronavirus had killed over 156,000 and infected over 4.7 million in the U.S. — that the virus’s death toll “is what it is.”

As QAnon Conspiracy Spreads on the Far Right, Climate Science Deniers Jump Aboard

Read time: 10 mins
Person in 'Secede' t-shirt holds a QAnon flag in front of Confederate flag

Back in December 2019, two conspiratorial worldviews collided as, for the first time, QAnon’s Q suggested his followers should question anew a topic that, by now, has been considered, and reconsidered, for decades: climate change.

The Paris Agreement on Climate is Another Scam to Ripoff Taxpayers and Enrich the Politicians,” the Q-Drop (the term QAnon followers use to refer to messages they believe come from some sort of government insider who signs messages with the letter Q) claimed, labeling climate action a “con.”

As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil's Last Big Boom

Read time: 12 mins

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Energy Transfer Launches Appeals Following Court Order to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline

Read time: 8 mins
Dakota Access pipeline under construction

On Monday, July 6, a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) by August 5. The move follows a March judgment that ordered the pipeline to undergo a more thorough environmental review.

However, Energy Transfer, the pipeline's parent company, later revealed that the company was continuing to offer deals to oil companies to ship their product on DAPL during times when the pipeline is slated to be shut down. Today, the legal battle moved towards the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, after the judge denied a request to freeze the shutdown order.

In the Shadow of Shuttered Philadelphia Refinery, Neighbors Recall Those Lost to Decades of Pollution

Read time: 11 mins
PES Refinery fenceline memorial

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery was —until last year — the largest and oldest gasoline refinery on the East Coast. The week it was sold began with a community rally that also served as a makeshift memorial service.

On Monday, June 22, as Black Lives Matter protests continued nationwide, members of Philly Thrive, a local grassroots group, arrived outside the perimeter of the refinery complex in South Philadelphia. They posted “in memorium” placards bearing the names of deceased Philadelphians along the facility’s chainlink borders, handwritten fenceline memorials for departed members of the refinery's fenceline community. Speakers that day recalled less the fiery explosion that tore through the plant one year earlier and more the long-term harms caused by decades of fossil fuel production in the majority Black neighborhood.

Shell's Falcon Pipeline Dogged by Issues with Drilling and Permit Uncertainty During Pandemic

Read time: 17 mins
Wolf Run Creek

Over the past few months, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, Shell Pipeline Company has pressed onward with the construction of a 97-mile pipeline running through Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Shell plans to use the Falcon pipeline to supply its $6 billion plastics plant currently being built in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, with ethane, a raw material pulled from shale wells in the state and from neighboring Ohio.

A DeSmog investigation found that Falcon’s construction has struggled with drilling problems and has continued even while one key water-crossing for the pipeline lacked state or federal permits. During that same time, vast numbers of other businesses in both states — including the Shell plastics plant itself — were forced to slow or stop activities in efforts to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Oil, Gas, Petrochemical Financial Woes Predate Pandemic — And Will Continue After, Despite Bailouts, Report Finds

Read time: 7 mins
empty streets

The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries have taken a massive financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) concludes, but its financial troubles preexisted the emergence of the novel coronavirus and are likely to extend far into the future, past the end to measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Some Pipeline Projects Push Forward While Others Falter Nationwide

Read time: 12 mins
pipeline in Permian Basin

Last Friday, the Iowa Utilities Board issued an order that would allow the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) to double the amount of oil that flows through the state from 550,000 barrels a day to 1.1 million barrels a day. The utilities board, which also announced it had waived a hearing on the matter, made its move over the objections of environmental organizations and other civic groups opposed to DAPL operator Energy Transfer’s expansion plans.

Iowa’s approval landed just two days after a federal judge in North Dakota found that the project must undergo a full environmental review in a March 25 order, throwing the pipeline’s legal status into question. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, who issued that order, also asked attorneys involved in that dispute to submit briefs on whether DAPL should be shut down while the pipeline undergoes its environmental review.

The DAPL expansion, meanwhile, still needs approval from Illinois state regulators, and environmental groups have asked the Illinois Commerce Commission to hold off from making any decisions for the time being, citing not only Judge Boasberg’s ruling but also the turmoil in the global oil market and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on oil demand.

Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review

Read time: 6 mins
Standing Rock camp in December 2016

Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question.

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