Justin Mikulka's blog

Proposed Bailout of Coal and Nuclear Is Trump Admin’s Attempt to Save Dying Industries

A Caterpillar D9 bulldozer pushes a mountain of coal at a rail/barge terminal on the Tennessee River. Calvert City, September 2010.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to fast-track a rule that purports to make the energy grid more resilient but which in reality will force utility customers to buy more expensive electricity from coal and nuclear plants. A new report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) casts this proposal as a thinly veiled bailout for two industries that are no longer competitive in the electricity generation markets.

According to federal data compiled by EWG, without this bailout, utilities plan to close 75 coal and nuclear plants in the next three years.

National Academy Study Touts Oil-by-Rail Safety But Supports Weakening Regulations

national academy of sciences sign in Washington, D.C.

A new study by the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the rail industry should do more to improve the safety of transporting oil and ethanol by rail, which includes addressing track safety and rail tank cars. Both of these are well-known safety issues.

However, the study, “Safely Transporting Hazardous Liquids and Gases in a Changing U.S. Energy Landscape,” also cites a separate NAS study “A Review of the Department of Transportation Plan for Analyzing and Testing Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes” and notes that after reviewing available data, the researchers were unable to “make a conclusive statement” on the safety technology known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.* This is where things get interesting.

American Petroleum Institute Failed to Respond to Concerns of Oil Train Safety

American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard

On July 29, 2013 Thomas J. Herrmann of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) wrote a letter to Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API). The letter was in response to the oil train disaster that occurred earlier that month in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people and reduced the downtown to a vacant lot (and it remains so over four years later).

Herrmann was writing to Gerard because the oil tank cars hauled by trains are actually owned or leased by members of the American Petroleum Institute, not by rail companies.

Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

Lac-Mégantic before oil train explosion leveled its downtown

Damning new testimony from an engineer of the locomotive involved in the deadly 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, reveals several ways corporate cost-cutting directly led to the accident, which claimed 47 lives.

Experts Who Sold the Idea of Oil Exports Proven Very Wrong Very Fast

Tanker

As Bloomberg put it recently, today “crude oil gushes out of the U.S. like never before.” U.S. exports of crude oil just hit a new record: nearly two million barrels per day. And while at DeSmog we predicted that “lifting the oil export ban will result in large increases in fracking for oil in the U.S.,” most industry experts at the time were making very different claims.

It’s universally agreed in the short term that we won’t see a flood of ships leaving for foreign ports because the economics aren’t right,” Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at respected consulting firm RBN Energy, said in December 2015, just before the ban on crude oil export lifted. Fielden was explaining why lifting that ban wouldn't result in a sizable and ongoing rush to export American crude.

Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

Oil derrick with 'welfare' spelled on Scrabble tiles

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Energy found that 50 percent of new oil production in America would be unprofitable if not for government subsidies. The study, performed by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track, Inc., found that, at prices of $50 per barrel, light oil produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) was heavily dependent on subsidies.

In fact, forty percent of the Permian basin in Texas would be economically unviable without subsidies, and for the home of Bakken crude production, Williston Basin, that number jumps to 59 percent, according to the researchers.

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