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.

EPA's Fracking Study Edited at Last Minute, Downplaying Risks, Newly Uncovered Documents Show

Just before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its high profile study on fracking, the agency planned to announce that the draft “study shows potential vulnerabilities to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing process.”

But that wasn't the message the public heard the next day.

Instead, the EPA's press release highlighted a statement that the $29 million “[a]ssessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources…”

Protections for Rare and Endangered Animals Under Threat from Permian Basin Drilling Industry

Midland, TX – Monarch butterflies, tiny lizards, and a type of grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken all drew close scrutiny from a large gathering of oil and gas executives at the Permian Basin Petroleum Association's annual meeting this year.

Fracking has helped turn the Permian Basin into the nation's most productive oil field — and the only part of the U.S. where the oil industry continues to expand robustly despite a price slump that began in mid-2014.

But the parched Permian Basin is also home to a broad array of rare wildlife, including a significant number of species already considered threatened or endangered. With the Fish and Wildlife Service considering adding dozens more species in Texas to their lists, the oil industry here is sweating (and not simply because last month was the warmest October in Midland in over 80 years of record-keeping).

Endangered species may prove to be an unexpected Achilles heel for the Permian drilling industry as it attempts to turn the deserts of west Texas into an oil “well factory” — a dense field of wellpads, pipelines and access roads built right amid unique ecosystems and habitats for wild animals that may be at risk of extinction.

Connecticut Becomes Most Recent State to Back Away from Spectra's Access Northeast Pipeline Project

Connecticut regulators dealt a blow to pipeline company Spectra Energy Corp. this week by abandoning several utility proposals that would have relied on Spectra's beleaguered Access Northeast pipeline, a 125-mile pipeline expansion project planned to span from New York state to just past Boston, MA

Connecticut's move comes in the wake of a major defeat for Spectra this summer, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state's electrical ratepayers could not be forced to assume the financial risks associated with building gas pipelines as Spectra had hoped.

Internal Watchdog Blasts Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Regulators Over Safety Rule Delays

Safety laws meant to protect the American public against oil train explosions, pipeline leaks and other deadly risks have been repeatedly held up by slow-moving federal regulators, a newly released Department of Transportation internal audit has concluded.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — charged with overseeing 2.6 million miles of pipelines and the handling of a million hazardous material shipments a day — missed deadline after deadline as it attempted to craft the safety rules and regulations that give federal laws effect, auditors from the DOT inspector general's office wrote in their Oct. 14 report.

PHMSA’s slow progress and lack of coordination over the past 10 years has delayed the protections those mandates and recommendations are intended to provide,” the report concluded.

New Report by Top Senators Details Financial Ties Between Fossil Fuel Industry and Clean Power Plan Opponents

Rolls of hundred dollar bills.

On September 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in a major challenge to the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — an enormously high-stakes legal battle, that could determine whether Obama's climate plan is ever put into effect.

The stakes are high not only for the environment, but for fossil fuel companies — and those companies have poured enormous sums of money into efforts that would help ensure the Clean Power Plan never goes into effect, according to a report issued this week by four members of Congress.

Trump Touts Drilling's Potential, Botches Facts, at Shale Industry Conference

Donald Trump on stage.

The shale gas and oil industry gathered in Pittsburgh this week for a major annual East Coast conference, Shale Insight 2016, and to hear the words of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who served as the keynote speaker.

“It's great to be with so many of my friends,” Trump began. “Oh, you will like me so much.”

Then, right out of the gate, Trump botched his facts about the shale industry he was there to address.

Chevron PR Firm's Local "News" Site Draws Attention from Koch Industries, Alarm from Media Watchdogs

Chevron refinery

In the city of Richmond, California, Chevron Corp. not only processes up to 250,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the largest refinery on the West Coast — it also writes the news.

The Richmond Standard, an online paper focused on local news for the roughly 100,000 residents of this San Francisco Bay area city (neighboring Berkeley and Oakland), is produced entirely by Chevron's public relations firm.

The Standard mostly prints local-interest stories: announcing library construction, highlighting missing persons, and profiling area businesses.

But unlike a traditional newspaper, the Standard also runs a dedicated section called “Chevron Speaks” — used to introduce friendly Chevron reps, attack investigative reporting projects, and talk electoral politics. And unlike other media outlets, the Standard consistently lacks mention of industrial accidents and problems at the refinery. 

New Koch-Funded Group ‘Fueling US Forward’ Aims to Promote the "Positives" of Fossil Fuels

A long-awaited campaign to rebrand fossil fuels called Fueling U.S. Forward made its public debut at the Red State Gathering 2016 on Saturday, where the organization's President and CEO Charles Drevna gave attendees the inside scoop on the effort, and confirmed that the campaign is backed financially by Koch Industries. 

Back in February, Peter Stone first reported in the Huffington Post that a $10 million-a-year effort was proposed by a Koch Industries board member, James Mahoney, and Mr. Drevna, aiming “to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles.” In early August, the Fueling U.S. Forward website launched, and on Saturday, the first public comments were made about the campaign by Mr. Drevna, and they revealed a lot about how the Koch-backed initiative is working to re-frame fossil fuels. 

“We need a sustainable energy to ensure the future of the country,” Mr. Drevna told the audience.

The source of that energy? That which Mr. Drevna labeled “reliable, abundant, efficient and sustainable fuels.”

“Folks, that's of course the fossil fuels,” he immediately added.

In Scathing Review, EPA's Science Advisors Tell Agency Not to Downplay Fracking-Related Water Contamination

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisors finished their review of EPA's national study on fracking and sternly rebuked the EPA for claiming that its draft study had found no evidence of “widespread, systemic” impacts to drinking water.

The EPA had not provided the evidence to support that claim, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) peer review panel found. The phrase was widely quoted in the press, but appeared only in a press release and the Executive Summary of EPA's draft study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water.

Thousands of Pages of Confidential Think Tank Documents Detail Corporate Ties, New York Times Reports

Thousands of pages of confidential internal think tank emails and documents published by the New York Times yesterday shine a revealing spotlight on how some of the nation's most prominent think tanks are used by corporate donors to promote specific policies — while concealing the financial interests involved.

The emails provide a “smoking gun” of evidence that corporations that donated to non-profit think tanks like The Brookings Institution were promised specific receivables in return.

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