Justin Mikulka

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Justin Mikulka is a freelance writer, audio and video producer living in New York.

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

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.

Bankers and Investors Finding Fracking Industry's Underlying Models Prove Overly Optimistic

Read time: 15 mins
Dozens of drilling rigs are stacked at the Patterson-UTI yard in Midland, Texas after the oil price went negative on April 20, 2020. Midland, Texas. May 27, 2020.

Warren Buffet has a famous quote about investing: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.” 

When it comes to his $10 billion investment in Occidental Petroleum, Buffett will need to take that one to heart now that other investors have sued Occidental for the merger financed in part by Buffet’s stake, alleging that the amount of debt required for Occidental to merge with Anadarko left the company “precariously exposed” if oil prices went lower. They cited the billions that Buffett invested in the deal as compounding this risk. 

The fracking industry doesn’t care that you’re a world-famous investment sage: It destroys all capital. 

Return of the Bomb Trains

Read time: 7 mins

On July 6, Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6 also was the seventh anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic. 

Carbon Capture Will Require Large Public Subsidies to Support Coal and Gas Power

Read time: 9 mins
Natural gas power plant

In April, the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University released a report concluding that, without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

However, CGEP, which has a history of strongly supporting the interests of the fossil fuel industry, concludes in this report that the government should implement new publicly financed policies in order to ensure investors are willing to take the risk of investing in carbon capture — and use the public to backstop that risk so those investors make money. 

Safety Can't Be a 'Pretext' for Regulating Unsafe Oil Trains, Says Trump Admin

Read time: 11 mins
Lac-Megantic oil train explosion

The federal agency overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials released a stunning explanation of its May 11 decision striking down a Washington state effort to regulate trains carrying volatile oil within its borders. A state cannot use “safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth,” wrote Paul J. Roberti, the chief counsel for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

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