Justin Mikulka

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

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

Fossil Fuel CEOs Say They Just Want to Lift People Out of Poverty. Do You Believe Them?

Rex Tillerson

In a 2013 interview about the risks and rewards of oil exploration, Charlie Rose asked then Exxon CEO (and now Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson if his philosophy was “Drill, baby, drill!” 

Tillerson replied that his philosophy was “to make money.” At the same time, during his tenure as CEO of ExxonMobil, he also discussed how energy companies are eager to help lift the developing world out of poverty — a slightly different perspective.  

Oil Trains Remain Industry’s Long-term Plan for Shipping to West Coast

Train with mountains in the background

Despite a string of recent successes by West Coast communities to block the construction of oil-by-rail facilities, the oil industry has no plans to give up using rail to move oil to the West Coast. And it isn’t hard to understand why. There are no plans for oil pipelines from North Dakota to California or Washington. And with indications that the Bakken field may already be declining, any investment in such a project is highly unlikely. 

And unlike at East Coast refineries, those in the west don't have the option to buy light crude from Africa, delivered via tanker, which is a better option than buying Bakken oil from North Dakota or Montana, delivered by rail, when oil prices are low. That's why the oil industry continues to pursue its long-term plans to move oil west via train. 

New York Attorney General: Feds Must Address Bakken Bomb Trains. Feds: Maybe Later?

Fireball

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has joined with attorneys general from California, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Washington in calling for limits on the volatility of crude oil transported by rail. The failure of federal regulators and Congress to address this known safety issue has led Schneiderman to continue to pressure regulators on it.

Trump’s New Era of Industry Self-Regulation Begins for Oil by Rail

Crossing train tracks

In case you were wondering how industry-friendly the federal government is becoming, look no futher than Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Congressional Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. He recently opened a hearing on pipeline and rail regulations with the following sentiment: 

Regulation has grown significantly in recent years and so we are here to ask stakeholders about the impact and burden of regulation on their businesses and ways to ease the burden without compromising safety.” 

New Book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Details Fossil Fuel Titans Behind Climate Crisis

From the book cover, Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the new book by environmental journalist Dick Russell that details the people and institutions most responsible for today’s climate and environmental crisis. Russell focuses on fossil fuel titans like Charles and David Koch; Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson; CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources Harold Hamm; and Peabody Coal chief Greg Boyce. 

As carbon dioxide has risen to atmospheric levels not witnessed on earth in millions of years, a relative handful of men have fought to maintain their power and wealth at the expense of all civilization,” Russell writes. “This book scrutinizes who these people are, their means of confusing the truth, and how they justify their actions.”

Gas Barge Grounding in New York Shows Risk of Turning Hudson River into ‘Pipeline on Water’

On April 4 a barge carrying 60,000 barrels of gasoline ran aground in the Hudson River and was stranded for hours while New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation tried to determine if the barge was leaking. Luckily the Hudson is a tidal river and when the tide rose, the ship was able to be freed. No gasoline had spilled this time. 

However, the nature of the accident highlights the risks of moving petroleum products in barges and tankers on the Hudson River — something that may become a lot more common in the near future. Basil Seggos, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, explained to the Albany Times Union what caused the accident but couldn’t explain why it happened. 

Two Ethanol Trains Derail — and One Explodes — as Industry Embraces Riskier Practices

An ethanol unit train of DOT-111 tank cars.

On March 8, a train pulling 80 tank cars of ethanol derailed in Providence, Rhode Island. Luckily, no ethanol was spilled and no one was injured. However, activists immediately began calling for a halt to these “unit trains” of ethanol into and out of the city, noting the potential risks to the community. Unit trains are longer than average freight trains — often 100 cars or more — dedicated to carrying a single commodity, such as ethanol or crude oil. 

These risks were on display two days later when a unit train hauling 100 cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge in Graettinger, Iowa, approximately 160 miles from Des Moines. This time, 27 of the cars left the tracks. At least eight tank cars ruptured and caught fire, and three tank cars ended up in a creek beneath the bridge, releasing about 1,600 gallons of ethanol into the waterway. 

Claims Used to Overturn the Crude Oil Export Ban Are Turning Out False

Oil tanker near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Last week, oil companies in the United States exported approximately 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, setting a new record for exports since the ban on exporting crude oil was lifted in 2016. To put that in perspective, that is slightly more oil than the U.S. currently imports from Saudi Arabia. 

This level of exports has “surprised” energy analysts, according to a report from CNBC. During the several-year campaign to end the crude oil export ban, the oil industry and its lobbyists peddled many arguments to justify the overturn, but a year after crude oil started leaving the U.S. for global markets, most of these predictions have quickly been proven wrong.

Leader of Standing Rock Sioux: “This Movement Has Been Special”

Dave Archambault II

It’s time to do something and no longer sit back.” That was the message that David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, delivered to an audience at Cornell University on February 16. His comments came just a week before the February 22 deadline set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and echoed by North Dakota governor Doug Burgum for those at the Standing Rock encampments to evacuate.

While the overflow crowd was certainly drawn there because of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, the title of Archambault’s seminar was “Standing Rock: The Violation of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.” While he did discuss the months-long protests, the talk covered a wide range of topics, adding essential historical context to the tribe's modern struggle against the pipeline. 

Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?

Derailed oil train cars still smoking after the fire in Mount Carbon, West Virginia

When President Donald Trump signed executive orders pushing for the approval and expedited review of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, an oil industry-funded think tank put out an interesting comment supporting the move in a press release:

I believe that Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States,” said Christopher Essex at the University of Western Ontario, on behalf of the climate change–denying Heartland Institute. “It gets there in part via huge dirty dangerously flammable trains of oil-bearing tank cars.”  

But why was Heartland, which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil, championing oil pipelines while highlighting the risks of oil trains? 

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