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.

America’s Big Bet on Selling Fracked Gas to China and the World

Read time: 8 mins
LNG carrier ship

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is getting a lot of attention these days, with U.S. producers making major investments in the infrastructure to produce and export LNG to China and the rest of the world for the next several decades.

That's despite LNG looking like a big bet that may not ever pay off. 

'Bomb Trains,' a New Book on the Deadly, Ongoing Threat of Oil by Rail

Read time: 7 mins
Bomb Trains book cover crop

On July 6, 2013, a train hauling crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, resulting in fires and explosions that killed 47 people and wiped out a large part of the small Canadian town's center. At the time I was living in Albany, New York, which had become a major distribution point for Bakken oil delivered to the Port of Albany in mile-long trains like the one that devastated Lac-Mégantic. In the six months following the deadly disaster, several more trains of Bakken oil derailed and exploded across North America.

As the risk of these oil trains became very apparent, I began investigating how the trains could be allowed to travel through communities like mine in Albany and started publishing my findings here at DeSmog. Now, just after the six year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, I have compiled all of that research into the new book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk.

More Signs That Natural Gas Can’t Compete With Renewables on Cost

Read time: 7 mins
solar panels at twilight

From a natural gas industry conference to a major metropolitan area, more signs are emerging that natural gas is in a losing economic battle with renewables and battery storage. And considering recent news that existing fossil fuel projects are already enough to push the world past international climate goals, this emerging economic reality couldn't come soon enough.

US Poised to Approve Shipping LNG by Rail for Export With No New Safety Rules

Read time: 3 mins
LNG ship

On June 6, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that the company Energy Transport Solutions LLC had applied for a special permit to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long and for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. The notice in the Federal Register starts a comment period, ending July 8, for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which represents a new mode for transporting LNG and includes no new safety precautions.

The permit documentation and environmental assessment from PHMSA suggest that federal regulators — instead of learning from the deadly mistakes of the essentially unregulated oil-by-rail boom — are poised to allow the fossil fuel and rail industries to repeat the same business model with LNG, with potentially even higher consequences for public health and safety.

It’s Time to Stop Calling Natural Gas a ‘Bridge Fuel’ to a Safe Climate, Says New Report

Read time: 6 mins
natural gas flare

Natural gas, marketed for years as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy sources, cannot be part of any climate solution, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

While its authors outline a range of arguments, the report, Burning the Gas “Bridge Fuel” Myth: Why Gas is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary, highlights this simple reason: There is no room for new fossil fuel development — natural gas included — within the Paris Agreement goals. Therefore, plans to transition to a natural gas-based system are incompatible with international climate goals.

Trump Admin’s Latest Rail Safety Rollback Sets up Industry to Make Its Own Rules

Read time: 8 mins
Metro North train crash in Valhalla, New York in 2015

This week, the Trump administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) withdrew another rail safety recommendation originally proposed during the Obama administration. In the process, the agency made quite clear that it has no plans to further regulate the rail industry, especially the dangerous and continued transportation of oil and ethanol in unsafe tank cars.

The latest proposed rule to be withdrawn would have required two-person crews on trains. Supporters of this rule argue that two-person crews are safer because the job of operating a train is too demanding for one person, new technologies are making the job more complex, and fatigue becomes a more serious issue with only one crew member. Since 2017, the Trump administration has already repealed a regulation requiring modern brakes for oil trains and canceled a plan requiring train operators to be tested for sleep apnea.

First, Climate Change, Now the Global Extinction Crisis: Industry-Paid Hacks Deny Science to Congress

Read time: 5 mins
Patrick Moore, Marc Morano, Robert Watson

In this week’s Congressional hearing on the recent (and dire) UN Global Assessment of Biodiversity, conservation scientist Dr. Jacob Malcom did not mince words as he explained the report's startling findings that one million species are at risk of extinction.

We are, as you have heard, losing species faster than ever in human history, tens to hundreds of times faster than the background rate of extinction,” the Defenders of Wildlife scientist told the Congressional House Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee. “We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, where the last time this happened it was because an asteroid hit the planet. Today we are that asteroid.”

Such a massive loss of plants, animals, and other species would also, quite naturally, affect human life on earth. But just as they have with hearings on the climate crisis, Congressional Republicans and their witnesses used this opportunity to attack the well-documented scientific evidence of a far-reaching global threat to life. And they even used some of the same climate science deniers and tired arguments to do it.

Trump Praises LNG Exports in Louisiana as His Trade War with China Threatens the Industry

Read time: 6 mins
Trump at Cameron LNG

Today President Donald Trump appeared at Louisiana's $10 billion Cameron Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facility to promote LNG exports and American “energy independence.”

Trump’s visit to the Cameron Parish terminal comes the day after his escalating trade war, which he called “a little squabble with China,” led China to raise tariffs on U.S. LNG from 10 to 25 percent — a major blow to the U.S. industry, which could slow America's massive plans to expand LNG export facilities.

Warren Buffett, Fear, and Greed in Fracked Oil Fields 

Read time: 7 mins
Oil pumpjack at sunset

Warren Buffett, CEO of investment holding company Berkshire Hathaway, is considered one of the top investors in history and can back up that track record with a personal wealth of around $90 billion. Buffett is known for advising investors to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” 

In the U.S. fracked oil industry, this month can be read like a textbook version of Buffett’s fear and greed adage. The shale industry showed plenty of signs of fear while Buffett made a massive “greedy” bet on the future of the Permian Shale in Texas and New Mexico, assuming it will produce oil profitably and investing $10 billion in Occidental’s purchase of shale producer Anadarko.

With Renewables so Competitive, Big Plans for Oil and Gas Investments Look Risky

Read time: 7 mins
pipeline sections

As the time left to avoid climate catastrophe counts down, the U.S. oil and gas industry is making a massive bet on exporting its products to the rest of the world for the next several decades — a sure recipe for blowing past the 1.5°C (2.7°F) increase in temperatures scientists say would avoid the worst effects of global warming

Pipeline Bubble,” a new report from Global Energy Monitor, a fossil fuel and alternative energy research network, details this planned boom in new oil and gas pipeline infrastructure in North America. These plans not only allow North America to greatly increase oil and gas production, but those brand-new pipelines and related infrastructure are expected to last — and be used — for the next forty years. The report notes that the industry is currently planning $232 billion in new investment in oil and gas pipeline infrastructure. 

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