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.

Christopher Leonard's New Book Puts an Ever-Expanding 'Kochland' on the Map

Read time: 8 mins
Kochland book cover over Pine Bend refinery

Christopher Leonard’s new book, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, begins, appropriately enough, with an FBI agent, who is investigating criminal activity by the company, standing in a field with a pair of binoculars, trying to catch a glimpse of the daily operations of a company that prizes secrecy.

Koch Industries was under investigation for theft of oil from the Osage and other Indigenous nations. Walking into the company's office building involved passing through security checkpoints, Leonard explains, so numerous that one investigator later told Leonard that it “reminded him of traveling to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.”

Through exhaustive reporting and extraordinary interviews with past and current company executives, including some turned whistleblower, Kochland offers readers a view far larger than can be seen through binocular lenses, walking readers past those layers of security checkpoints and into the inner workings of an institution that has for decades tirelessly built itself into practically all American lives, while largely evading accountability or transparency.

Fracking and Shale Drilling Caused Spike in Climate-Warming Methane Pollution, Says New Study

Read time: 8 mins
Flaring in Permian Basin Shale with sunflowers

Climate-changing pollution reached unprecedented levels in 2018. That's both judged against the last 60 years of modern measurements and against 800,000 years of data culled from ice cores, according to the U.S. government’s State of the Climate report, which was published this week with the American Meteorological Society.

That pollution creates a greenhouse effect that is over 42 percent stronger than it was in 1990, the report added.

And while carbon dioxide hit a new level last year, it isn't the only climate-changing gas that’s on the rise globally. Pollution of the powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas methane also climbed in 2018, showing an increase “higher than the average growth rate over the past decade,” the report adds.

A new Cornell University study published today in the scientific journal Biogeosciences helps to explain what sparked the surge in those methane concentrations, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

One big culprit: shale drilling and fracking.

Documents Shine New Light on Koch Brothers’ Early Efforts to Abolish the Department of Energy

Read time: 8 mins
David Koch and Ed Clark

A scheme to abolish the Department of Energy (DOE) helped spur a failed 1980 Libertarian Party presidential bid — and in the process laid the groundwork for Charles and David Koch's powerful network of influence — as documents from a newly published archive show.

The documents in the new KochDocs.org archive include a relatively little-noticed column penned by fossil fuel industrialist Charles Koch for the Libertarian Review in August 1977, in which Charles, who had served as a member of President Carter’s energy task force in 1976, argued against Carter’s energy policy, writing that the “only ‘certainty’ to be associated with governmental planning is that it will not work, will tend to produce results opposite to those intended, and will doom any substantial private long-range planning in energy development.”

Within three years, the Energy Department had been established by federal law — and its abolishment had become a central plank of the Libertarian Party’s 1980 presidential campaign, which featured Ed Clark as its presidential candidate and Koch IndustriesDavid Koch as his running-mate. 

Explosions in Three States Highlight Dangers of Aging Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Read time: 7 mins
Site of gas pipeline explosion in Kentucky

On August 1, for the third time in as many years, Enbridge's Texas Eastern Transmission gas pipeline exploded. This tragic incident in central Kentucky killed a 58-year-old woman, Lisa Denise Derringer, and injured at least five others. Flames towered 300 feet high when the 30-inch diameter pipe ruptured at 1 a.m. and forced at least 75 people to evacuate.

“We opened the backdoor and it was like a tornado of fire going around and around and he said we were trapped,” survivor Jodie Coulter, 53, told CBS News, describing her efforts to flee on foot. Coulter, whose house was within 600 feet of the pipeline, suffered third-degree burns on her arms. “It felt like we were standing next to a blow torch.”

This explosion joins a string of others in the past several weeks involving America’s aging fossil fuel infrastructure — including a network of 2.6 million miles of pipelines, roughly half of which are over 50 years old, and over 130 oil refineries, many of which are 50 to 120 years old.

YouTube’s Video Suggestion Engine Boosted Climate Science Denial as World Warmed, Study Finds

Read time: 6 mins
"Climate Change Activists vs. Skeptics: Can they See Eye to Eye?" video.

Back in 2015, if you’d searched YouTube for information about climate change, the videos offered up might have left you with a warped sense of the state of climate science and the degree of scientific certainty that people are heating the world’s climate, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Communication suggests.

As Risky Finances Alienate Investors, Fracking Companies Look to Retirement Funds for Cash

Read time: 9 mins
Older adults on a beach bench

A year ago, Chesapeake Energy, at one time the nation’s largest natural gas producer, announced it was selling off its Ohio Utica shale drilling rights in a $2 billion deal with a little-known private company based in Houston, Texas, Encino Acquisition Partners.

For Chesapeake, the deal offered a way to pay off some of its debts, incurred as its former CEO, “Shale King” Aubrey McClendon, led Chesapeake on a disastrous shale drilling spree. Shares of Chesapeake Energy, which in the early days of the fracking boom traded in the $20 to $30 a share range, are now valued at a little more than $1.50.

Encino has marketed itself as a stable source of long-term returns (something the industry overall has struggled so far to create), attracting the managers of one of the world's largest pension funds to drill and frack the land that Chesapeake sold off to repay its enormous debts from fracking nationwide.

‘We Can't Sit on the Sidelines and Be Climate Deniers,’ Dominion VP Warns Natural Gas Industry

Read time: 11 mins
Donald Raikes at DUG East

Donald Raikes arrived at 2019’s DUG East conference, a major shale gas industry gathering in Pittsburgh, with a mixed set of messages for his fellow fossil energy officials.

We are faced with a lot of challenges in this industry,” Raikes, senior vice president of gas infrastructure at Dominion Energy, said. “And this morning what I plan to do is use my time to carve out a call for action for all of us. We need to be very aware of the forces that are out there and how they are coming against us.”

What sorts of forces? Raikes warned specifically about opposition from environmental groups.

But Raikes also warned that the oil and gas industry was doing itself no favors by denying that it affects the environment, and he even dipped his toes into the issue of climate science denial.

Here Are Some of the Climate-Linked Disasters and Rollbacks Trump’s ‘Environmental Leadership’ Speech Didn't Cover

Read time: 8 mins
Donald Trump

President Donald Trump spoke to “America’s environmental leadership” in an address today, where he lived up to predictions and described the country’s air and water as clean (“crystal clean” even).

The speech started late, and with a reference to the heavy rains that have flooded Washington, D.C., which today's Washington Post noted were unusual and consistent with the changes predicted by climate scientists.

The rest of the world may be forgiven some skepticism about America’s environmental leadership — particularly under Trump. Within six months of taking office, Donald Trump had announced that he planned to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the world’s framework for coordinating the international response to climate change, which scientists and world leaders have described as the most consequential environmental issue of our time.

Philadelphia Explosion One in String of 'Near Miss' Accidents at Refineries Using Deadly Chemical

Read time: 10 mins
PES refinery protest

Next Friday, July 12, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in south Philadelphia is slated to close its doors, marking the end of an era that began in 1866, one year after the Civil War ended, when 50,000 barrels of kerosene and chemicals were first stored on site.

The plant — which continued to struggle financially after emerging from bankruptcy in August 2018 — experienced a major industrial accident on June 21. That morning, a massive fireball lit up the pre-dawn sky over Philadelphia after leaking hydrocarbon gas had ignited. Five workers were injured, all treated on site. Three explosions shook walls in Philadelphia and the blast was reportedly felt as far away as South Jersey.

Emerging evidence suggests that the disaster could have been far more severe — in large part due to a deadly chemical used at the PES refinery and roughly 50 others nationwide.

CEO of Major Shale Oil Company 'Has Second Thoughts' on Fracking Rush, Wall Street Journal Reports

Read time: 6 mins
Permian Basin

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal featured a profile of Scott Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, whose company is known among investors for its emphasis on drawing oil and gas from the Permian basin in Texas using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Back in 2014, Sheffield told Forbes that he expected Pioneer could produce a million barrels of oil a day from the Permian basin by 2024 — up from 45,000 barrels a day in 2011.

Now, Sheffield, who left the helm of Pioneer in 2016 and returned this February, says that those million-barrel-a-day plans are looking increasingly doubtful as the industry has struggled to prove to investors that it’s capable not only of producing enormous volumes of oil and gas, but that it can do so while booking profits rather than losses.

We lost the growth investors,” Pioneer CEO Scott Sheffield told the Journal. “Now we’ve got to attract a whole other set of investors.”

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