Justin Mikulka

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Justin Mikulka is a freelance writer, audio and video producer living in Albany, NY.

Justin has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University.

New York State Reverses Decision, Requires Full Environmental Review of Tar Sands-by-Rail Facility

In what came as a welcome surprise to activists in Albany, New York, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reversed an earlier decision and now will require a full environmental review for a proposed tar sands oil heating facility at the Port of Albany.

U.S. Military Concerned As Oil "Bomb Trains" Roll Dangerously Close to Nuclear Bomb Silos

The latest oil train derailment and explosion in Heimdal, North Dakota is another frightening reminder of the danger this industry poses to communities across the country. Thankfully evacuating Heimdal wasn’t that big an operation because there are only 27 residents in the town.

Which is a significantly smaller number than the 150 nuclear missiles buried in the ground under North Dakota. A recent report by Rachel Maddow reveals that the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to those missile silos. Images like this one are why they are concerned. 

At Super Bowl of Energy, Industry Fixates On Expanded Fracking and Lifting Oil Export Ban

We have done more as an industry to advance the cause of raising living standards across the world than any other industry I can think of…” 

If the first industry you think of when you read that statement is “the oil industry” then you were probably in attendance at CERAweek in Houston in late April, an annual gathering known as the Super Bowl of Energy.

New Oil-By-Rail Regulations Are Big Win for Oil and Rail Industries, Won’t Stop “Bomb Trains”

The long-awaited oil-by-rail regulations released today are basically a guidebook for the oil and rail industries to continue doing business as usual when it comes to moving explosive Bakken crude oil by rail.

DeSmog recently reported on how the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to help achieve the oil industry’s top goal when it came to these new regulations — allowing the oil producers to continue to put the highly volatile Bakken crude oil into rail tank cars without removing the natural gas liquids that make it such an explosive mixture.

As we’ve reported, there is a relatively simple fix to end, or significantly reduce, the “bomb train” disasters, via a process known as stabilization.

Why Was The White House Involved in North Dakota Oil-by-Rail Regulations?

A seemingly innocuous email about two people getting coffee in August of 2014 helps shed light on the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to shape the oil-by-rail regulations that have given the oil industry a pass on the explosive nature of Bakken crude oil.

The emails, acquired by DeSmogBlog via a Freedom of Information Act request, led us to discover a troubling trail of influence from the Beltway to the Bakken. It's a sordid tale wherein public safety is needlessly compromised by the threat of “bomb trains” while the government ignores a simple fix to safeguard communities in favor of enabling runaway profits for the oil and rail industries.

New Report Warns of West Coast Tar Sands Oil Invasion

The West Coast of the United States and Canada is facing an imminent tar sands oil invasion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“The West Coast is about to fall victim to a tar sands invasion, unless our leaders choose to protect the health and safety of our communities and say no to Big Oil,” said Anthony Swift, deputy director of NRDC's Canada Project. “At a time when the nation is moving toward a clean energy future, there is no reason to welcome the dirtiest oil on the planet into our communities.”

While the West Coast is not currently the destination for much tar sands oil, the area’s heavy oil refining capacity and deepwater port access make it a likely destination for large amounts of Canadian tar sands oil in the future.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) forecasts that tar sands supply will increase from 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2013 to 6.2 million bpd by 2030. To achieve those volumes, a significant portion of that oil would have to go to the West Coast by a combination of pipelines, rail and tanker.

Congresswoman Declares Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulatory System "Fundamentally Broken"

The system is fundamentally broken.”

Those were the words of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) during an April 14th hearing on oil-by-rail and pipeline safety.

For anyone expecting the soon to be released oil-by-rail regulations to make any meaningful improvements to safety, it would be wise to review the full comments made by Rep. Speier.

Science vs Spin: Dilbit Sinks in the Real World, But Not in Studies Funded by Oil Industry

EPA Kalamazoo River Cleanup

Once the oil started to sink, it made things a lot more difficult on our recovery.”

Those were the words of Greg Powell of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during his presentation on March 10th at the National Academy of Sciences conference on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment. Powell was one of the people involved in the response and clean up of the Kalamazoo River tar sands dilbit spill in 2010 where an Enbridge pipeline cracked and spilled approximately one million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Rail Industry Lobbied Against New Oil-by-Rail Safety Regulations The Day After Rail Accident

With the recent run of exploding oil train accidents, it isn’t surprising that the rail industry has publicly expressed concern about hauling highly flammable oils like Bakken light crude and diluted tar sands. But that's all the industry has done: express concern. It certainly hasn't done anything to act on its concerns.

For instance, Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific railway and the man who is on record as saying that regulators “overreacted” to the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, recently said Canadian Pacific might get out of the oil hauling business.

“Our board of directors looked at this very carefully and said, ‘what kind of exposure do we have and what kind of exposure are we [exposing] the public to by hauling some of these commodities?’” Harrison told BNN television. “And in spite of the bottom line—and I was very proud—we’ve sat back and said we might get out of this business.”

Of course, Hunter Harrison is a savvy businessman who has a record of relentless pursuit of profit. Harrison knows full well that the common carrier laws that apply to rail shipments make it so that he would have to shut down Canadian Pacific if he wanted to get out of the oil hauling business. Which isn’t likely.

What is more likely is that, just like rail company BNSF’s early 2014 public relations stunt in which the company said it was buying 5,000 safer rail cars to haul oil but then never did, Harrison is also just feeding the media a good story.

Because two days after Harrison was telling the media he wanted out of the oil hauling business, and one day after the exploding oil train accident in Galena, Illinois, Glen Wilson, Canadian Pacific’s Vice President of Safety, Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, was in Washington, D.C. lobbying against new oil train safety regulations.

Tar Sands by Rail Disasters: The Latest Wave in the Bomb Train Assault

With the first crash and explosion of a unit train of tar sands oil in Canada in February, we learned that the conventional wisdom among people covering the oil-by-rail industry regarding the flammability of tar sands oil has been dead wrong. A second derailment and explosion on March 7th involved synbit, which is a form of bitumen diluted with synthetic crude oil.

While there are many examples of this mischaracterization of the dangers of moving tar sands by rail that can be found in the press, here at DeSmogBlog we didn’t have to look far. In an article last year about how to make Bakken crude less dangerous we wrote that the government had plans to allow tar sands oil to be transported in the unsafe DOT-111 rail tank cars “because it is not explosive.”

While raw bitumen from the Alberta tar sands is not volatile or highly flammable, when it is diluted with natural gas condensate to form a mixture known as dilbit, which is typically done to make it easier to transport, it appears that it can be as dangerous as the Bakken crude that has now been proven to be highly flammable and explosive in multiple train derailments.

An article in Railway Age pointing out the implications of the tar-sands-by-rail accident had the ominous title “Why bitumen isn’t necessarily safer than Bakken” and concluded with the statement that “Should TSB [Transportation Safety Board] conclude that dilbit has a volatility similar to Bakken crude, as the Alberta research suggests, the hazmat classification of crude oil could be in question.”

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