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.

3 Reasons the Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Could Happen Again

Read time: 10 mins
Oil trains burning in Lac-Megantic, Quebec

In the five years since the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, claimed 47 lives, the world has learned much about the risks that hauling oil by rail poses. One of the clearest lessons is how little has been done to address those risks, which means that deadly event could easily happen again.

Rise of the Machines: Fracking Execs Plan Profits by Using Automation to Shrink Workforce

Read time: 6 mins
Fracking rig workers

At a recent industry conference, Terry Spencer, head of natural gas infrastructure company ONEOK, made clear the direction the fracking industry was headed: “One of these days one of these big ol’ fracs will be operated with nobody there.”

Translation: Computers and robots are going to replace all human jobs at the oil and gas fracking sites of the future.

Derailed Oil Train Spills 230,000 Gallons of Tar Sands in Flooded Iowa River

Read time: 7 mins
Iowa oil train spill and derailment

On June 22, a train carrying Canadian crude oil derailed in northwestern Iowa, releasing an estimated 230,000 gallons of oil into a flooded river. As a result of the derailment, over 30 rail tank cars ended up in the water, with 14 cars confirmed to have leaked oil.

To put the size of this spill in perspective, an Enbridge pipeline that leaked in Michigan in July 2010 released roughly 1,000,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup for this spill, one of the largest inland oil spills on record, took years and more than $1 billion. 

Like the Kalamazoo River spill, the train that derailed in Iowa was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.

Oil Pipeline CEO Tells Federal Energy Conference: 'It's a Great Time to Be in the Business'

Read time: 7 mins
Greg Armstrong

As attendees of this year's annual Energy Information Administration (EIA) conference walked into the Washington, D.C., Hilton Hotel on June 4, there was a bit of confusion. The only conference sign in sight was for a meeting on the “Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans.”  

Eventually, conference organizers remedied the problem, and the sign for the climate change conference would be the last time EIA meeting attendees would hear about the warming of the planet and its impacts.

Instead, the EIA conference, hosted by the federal agency that tracks energy industry trends and statistics, would focus on a decidedly different topic: the booming oil and gas industry.

Emails Reveal Pruitt and EPA Coordinating with Climate-Denying Heartland Institute

Read time: 4 mins
Scott Pruitt

A lawsuit filed in March by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Environmental Defense Fund has revealed new levels of coordination between Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the climate science-denying think tank the Heartland Institute.

Flip This Well: How Fracking Company CEOs Get Rich While Losing Billions

Read time: 9 mins
Flip this well logo on top of oil pumpjacks

Last year the fracking company Halcón Resources announced a new strategy that was sold as the path to profits for the previously troubled shale oil and gas firm. The company had sold its stake in the Bakken oil fields in order to double down on the Permian shale in Texas. At the time, Reuters touted the deal as a “stunning turnaround” for CEO Floyd Wilson, and the good news immediately drove up the Halcón stock price by 35 percent.

The sale of our Williston Basin operated assets transforms Halcón into a single-basin company focused on the Delaware Basin where we have more than 41,000 net acres,” Wilson said in a statement. He was making his pitch and investors responded.

However, the move was part of a familiar formula for those in the shale industry, which uses horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to release oil and gas from shale formations: Borrow lots of money, drill lots of fossil fuels at a loss, flip the company for a profit.

Columbia University Hires Trump Official and Fossil Fuel Defender as Climate Policy Expert

Read time: 9 mins
George David Banks

Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) is a hugely influential policy group filled with heavy hitters from politics and the oil industry. While the center's home page describes it as “an independent, interdisciplinary, and nonpartisan platform,” its track record shows that CGEP consistently supports the same policies favored by the fossil fuel industry. 

And one of its latest moves — hiring former Trump energy advisor and fossil fuel defender George “David” Banks as an expert on “international climate policy” — shows that trend will continue.

This Federal Policy Enabled the Fracking Industry’s $280 Billion Loss

Read time: 12 mins
Stock market numbers over oil drill pumpjack

Most people probably aren’t familiar with the acronym ZIRP. It stands for zero interest rate policy and is the policy that unintentionally created the American fracking bubble — just one of its many consequences.

And while most people may not know much (if anything) about ZIRP or the Federal Reserve (Fed), it is likely that they are aware of the impact this policy has on their own lives.

How Wall Street Enabled the Fracking 'Revolution' That's Losing Billions

Read time: 9 mins
Wall Street sign

The U.S. shale oil industry hailed as a “revolution” has burned through a quarter trillion dollars more than it has brought in over the last decade. It has been a money-losing endeavor of epic proportions.

In September 2016, the financial ratings service Moody’s released a report on U.S. oil companies, many of which were hurting from the massive drop in oil prices. Moody's found that “the financial toll from the oil bust can only be described as catastrophic,” particularly for small companies that took on huge debt to finance fracking shale formations when oil prices were high.

And even though shale companies still aren't turning a profit, Wall Street continues to lend the industry more money while touting these companies as good investments. Why would investors do that?

Exporting Gasoline by Rail to Mexico Likely to Recreate Mistakes of Explosive Bakken Oil Trains

Read time: 9 mins
Rusty rail car reading 'Texas Mexican Railway'

The oil industry learned an important lesson from its rush to move by train the highly flammable oil drilled in North Dakota's Bakken Shale. The lesson wasn't that those oil trains were unsafe and even dubbed “bomb trains” by rail workers (although they were). The lesson wasn't that their derailments caused several major oil spills in North America as well as the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, which killed 47 people and leveled the downtown area (although they did).

No, what the oil industry learned from this experience was that when it doesn’t have adequate pipeline capacity, its companies can still make money moving flammable petroleum products by rail, despite the well-documented risks outlined above. And the industry is now taking the same steps to move refined petroleum products — including gasoline — to Mexico by rail.

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