Justin Mikulka's blog

The US Oil and Gas Industry's Methane Problem Is Catching up With It

Read time: 13 mins
A laid-off oilfield worker's vest and gloves hang on a fence post in front of an idled pump jack in Eddy County, New Mexico

For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to downplay, or outright ignore, the problem of methane. Methane is an invisible gas, and lax state and federal regulations in the U.S. have allowed oil and gas producers to self-report how much of this potent planet-warming gas leaks from its supply chain, which researchers have repeatedly found is a lot more than the industry was admitting to.

But improved technologies, particularly from satellites, have allowed the world to increasingly fact-check industry numbers, shining a light on the true climate impact of natural gas, which is primarily methane. These days, methane emissions have become an industry black eye, to the point that major players are now clamoring for regulations after the Trump administration recently finalized the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas.

U.S. LNG Industry's Business Model Doesn't Work

Read time: 8 mins
Fossil fuel tanker ship

In mid-July, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette signed an order authorizing the export of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a proposed $10 billion terminal and gas pipeline project in Oregon. The news release accompanying Brouillette's order hailed the approval as having “profound economic, energy security, and environmental implications, both at home and abroad.”

Although the project, known as the Jordan Cove LNG terminal, has struggled to obtain state permits and faces vocal opposition from tribes and others, this consistent Trump administration refrain has not changed. The Obama administration made similar claims about natural gas production and energy security, jobs, and the environment, when it oversaw a rapid expansion of the LNG export industry

President Obama and President Trump were on the same page about LNG exports. They also share something else in common: They were both dead wrong. 

Environmental Groups Sue Trump Admin to Stop LNG Trains

Read time: 6 mins
President Donald Trump delivers remarks on promoting energy infrastructure and economic growth May 14, 2019 at the Cameron LNG Export Terminal in Hackberry, Louisiana.

Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups against the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), challenging a recently finalized Trump administration rule to allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail. 

It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Jordan Luebkemann, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo.”

The Bakken Boom Goes Bust With No Money to Clean up the Mess

Read time: 12 mins
Aerial view of North Dakota oil fields and roads

More than a decade ago, fracking took off in the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana, but the oil rush that followed has resulted in major environmental damage, risky oil transportation without regulation, pipeline permitting issues, and failure to produce profits.

Now, after all of that, the Bakken oil field appears moving toward terminal decline, with the public poised to cover the bill to clean up the mess caused by its ill-fated boom. 

Racism and Discrimination in the Oil and Gas Industry

Read time: 10 mins

With the recent focus on systemic racism in America, the oil and gas industry is depicting itself as leading on the issue of diversity in the workforce. However, its public relations efforts and slick advertisements do not reflect the industry's actual behavior.

In early June, as protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police went global, American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers released a statement vowing that America's most powerful fossil fuel lobbying organization “has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.” 

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

Read time: 9 mins
 A drilling rig on a former ranch outside of Barstow, Texas, in the Permian Basin

It was just over a year ago that President Trump announced, “The golden era of American energy is now underway,” saying that his policies focused on exploiting oil, gas, and coal were “unleashing energy dominance.” 

What a difference a year makes. On July 10, the Financial Times ran an article with a headline that asked, “Is the party finally over for U.S. oil and gas?” And there is no doubt that it has been quite a party for the last decade. At least, for the fracking executives who have enriched themselves while losing hundreds of billions of dollars investors gave them to produce oil and gas. Meanwhile, profits never materialized.

Lately, prospects for the broader fossil fuel industry look more like lead than gold.

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