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.

Oil-by-Rail Volumes Decreasing While Risks Remain

Read time: 7 mins

There are only two things that have made any real difference in protecting the public from the dangers of oil trains: activism that has stopped new infrastructure, and low oil prices. While activism is currently on hold during the pandemic, impacts on oil prices abound.

The latest numbers show that U.S. oil-by-rail volumes are down 11 percent versus where they were a year ago, which is likely just the beginning of the decline in volumes.

The industry is actually looking to fill rail tank cars with oil and then just park them as a form of additional storage as the current oil glut, combined with the huge drop in demand due to the coronavirus, is likely to fill all available storage in the next 2-3 months.

The Oil War in the Permian May Not Have Any Winners

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

At the same time a price war is raging in the global oil markets, a regional price war is playing out in the shale fields of Texas. The Texas oil war is between the major oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron and the many independent shale oil producers.

Exxon May Crush Bailout Hopes for Suffering Fracking Companies

Read time: 10 mins
Antique truck rusting in the oil fields of Reeves County, Texas, in the Permian Basin.

The Washington Post reported March 10 that the Trump administration was considering some type of financial help for the failing U.S. shale oil and gas industry, “as industry officials close to the administration clamor for help.” Those officials — billionaire shale CEO Harold Hamm was likely among them — seemed desperate for government assistance because, as DeSmog has documented, their deeply indebted businesses have lost billions of dollars during the fracking boom. Even before the recent oil price war and COVID-19 pandemic, these companies could hardly stay afloat, making cries for some type of corporate welfare likely unavoidable. 

But that's not the same message across the entire oil and gas industry.

Exxon Now Wants to Write the Rules for Regulating Methane Emissions

Read time: 10 mins
A compressor station along newly constructed pipeline in Loving County, Texas.

ExxonMobil is a company capable of contradictions. It has been lobbying against government efforts to address climate change while running ads touting its own efforts to do so.

And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve “cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations.”

So, why is Exxon asking to be regulated?

The North American Natural Gas Industry Is Struggling—Here's Why

Read time: 7 mins
LNG carrier

Last year, the financial prospects for the North American natural gas market were looking grim, as nervous investors started pulling back and producers announced big spending cuts and layoffs.

Today, the challenges facing the gas industry here have only worsened, even for LNG exports, its much-vaunted savior.

Is the U.S. Fracking Boom Based on Fraud?

Read time: 11 mins
typewriter reading 'fraud'

In a 2016 interview with Fraud Magazine, former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow explained what he thought made him so successful while at the former energy corporation that's now infamous for financial scandal.

“I think my ability to do structured financing, to finance things off-balance sheet and to find ways to manipulate financial statements — there's no nice way to say it. Like I said at the conference, I was good at finding loopholes.”

As Fastow explained, in finance, the difference between a loophole and fraud isn’t always easy to identify. And that may be something the U.S. fracking industry is working to its advantage.

To Many's Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits

Read time: 8 mins
aerial view of West Texas oil fields

As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.

Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.

EU Plans to Measure True Climate Impacts of LNG Imports From US Fracked Gas

Read time: 5 mins
LNG tanker

With growing evidence that the climate impacts of natural gas are comparable to coal, the European Commission is planning to study ways to reduce methane emissions across the life cycle of natural gas production and consumption, with potential implications for fracked gas producers in the U.S.

Canadian Town Evacuated After Another Oil Train Derails and Burns

Read time: 3 mins
Site of December 2019 CP oil train accident site, with the derailment looking south

Early in the morning of February 6, an oil train derailed and caught fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, resulting in the Canadian village's evacuation. This is the second oil train to derail and burn near Guernsey, following one in December that resulted in a fire and oil spill of 400,000 gallons.

Peak Permian Oil Production May Arrive Much Sooner Than Expected

Read time: 9 mins
Ad in Houston Airport mentioning declining Permian oilfields

In mid-January, Adam Waterous, who operates the private equity firm Waterous Energy Fund, made a prediction about the crown jewel of the U.S. shale oil industry, the Permian shale play that straddles Texas and New Mexico.

We think we are at or near peak Permian,” Waterous told Bloomberg. “The North American oil market has been grossly overcapitalized, which is not sustainable.”

Bloomberg reporter Simon Casey goes on to qualify that “[p]redicting peak Permian output for 2020 isn’t a mainstream view.” However, evidence is piling up that the U.S. shale industry may indeed be close to peaking as it runs out of the two things required to continue increasing oil production: money and what's known as “tier one acreage.”