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.

This Problem With Fracked Oil and Gas Wells Is Occurring 'at an Alarming Rate'

Read time: 13 mins
XTO well pad blowout in Belmont County, Ohio

On February 15, 2018, a fracked natural gas well owned by ExxonMobil's XTO Energy and located in southeast Ohio experienced a well blowout, causing it to gush the potent greenhouse gas methane for nearly three weeks. The obscure accident ultimately resulted in one of the biggest methane leaks in U.S. history. The New York Times reported in December that new satellite data revealed that this single gas well leaked more methane in 20 days than an entire year's worth of methane released by the oil and gas industries in countries like Norway and France.

The cause of this massive leak was a failure of the gas well's casing, or internal lining. Well casing failures represent yet another significant but not widely discussed technical problem for an unprofitable fracking industry

Debunked Australian Bushfire Conspiracy Theories Were Pushed by Alex Jones, Murdoch Media

Read time: 3 mins

As unusually intense and widespread bushfires have ravaged a drought-ridden Australia, bots and trolls have begun pushing climate science denial across the internet in the form of conspiracy theories about the fires. Thanks to climate change, exceptionally hot, dry drought conditions have worsened and lengthened Australia's typical fire season.

Two of the main conspiracies about the fires are based on the false ideas that they are caused by a spate of arson and they have been worsened by the Green Party's supposed efforts to stop controlled burns as a fire management and reduction measure.

Forecast for 2020: More Oil Trains, Fires, Spills, and the Rise of LNG by Rail

Read time: 10 mins
Canadian oil train accident scene

As 2019 drew to a close and the new year ramps up, a number of signs point to the growing risks of transporting oil and gas by rail, with little government oversight to speak of: from increasing oil train traffic into the U.S. to fiery oil train derailments and new approvals for moving liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

The Fracking Industry's Methane Problem Is a Climate Problem

Read time: 9 mins
methane gas warning sign

While carbon dioxide — deservedly — gets a bad rap when it comes to climate change, about 40 percent of global warming actually can be attributed to the powerful greenhouse gas methane, according to the 2013 IPCC report. This makes addressing methane emissions critical to stopping additional warming, especially in the near future. Methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere but 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. 

Atmospheric levels of methane stopped increasing around the year 2000 and at the time were expected to decrease in the future. However, they began increasing again in the last 10 years, spurring researchers to explore why. Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University, recently presented his latest research linking the increase in methane to fossil fuel production, with fracking for natural gas, which is mostly methane, likely a major source. 

As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, US Regulators Enable Firms to Duck Cleanup Costs

Read time: 9 mins
Equipment for reclamation of an old oil and gas well in the eastern U.S.

In over their heads with debt, U.S. shale oil and gas firms are now moving from a boom in fracking to a boom in bankruptcies. This trend of failing finances has the potential for the U.S. public, both at the state and federal levels, to be left on the hook for paying to properly shut down and clean up even more drilling sites.

Expect these companies to try reducing their debt through the process of bankruptcy and, like the coal industry, attempting to get out of environmental and employee-related financial obligations. 

Energy Analysts Deliver More Bad News for US Fracking Industry's Business Model

Read time: 7 mins
Oil Fields Near Stanton, TX

This month, the energy consulting firm Wood MacKenzie gave an online presentation that basically debunked the whole business model of the shale industry.

In this webinar, which explored the declining production rates of oil wells in the Permian region, research director Ben Shattuck noted how it was impossible to accurately forecast how much oil a shale play held based on estimates from existing wells.

Over the years of us doing this, as analysts, we’ve learned that you really have to do it well by well,” Shattuck explained of analyzing well performance. “You cannot take anything for granted.”

Years Before Exxon Valdez, Documents Show Exxon’s Imperial Oil Prioritized Public Image Over Spill Impacts

Read time: 8 mins
Imperial Oil Esso holding tanks

On February 4, 1970, the oil tanker SS Arrow was carrying a cargo of heavy bunker oil for Imperial Oil Limited when it encountered rough weather off the east coast of Canada. The ship’s captain had not sailed this route before and reportedly had no navigational charts. The ship itself had known problems with its navigation system. When the radar warned the crew of trouble ahead, the warning was ignored. The ship promptly ran aground on a well-known hazard, Cerberus Rock, ultimately spilling approximately 2.5 million gallons of oil, which coated 190 miles of shoreline.

Nearly two decades before the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska, the Arrow oil spill became a public relations black eye for Imperial Oil, a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon, and internal company documents published today by DeSmog and the Climate Investigations Center reveal that the company viewed the environmental disaster more in the context of improving its public image than improving safety measures that would reduce these types of environmental risks.

Stanford Study Says Renewable Power Eliminates Argument for Using Carbon Capture with Fossil Fuels

Read time: 7 mins
coal power plant

New research from Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson questions the climate and health benefits of carbon capture technology against simply switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Carbon capture technology is premised on two possible approaches to reducing climate pollution: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere anywhere in the world, an approach generally known as direct air capture, or removing it directly from the emissions source, such as the smoke stack of a fossil fuel power plant.

Jacobson's study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Energy and Environmental Science, concludes that carbon capture technologies are inefficient at pulling out carbon, from a climate perspective, and often increase local air pollution from the power required to run them, which exacerbates public health issues. Replacing a coal plant with wind turbines, on the other hand, always decreases local air pollution and doesn't come with the associated cost of running a carbon capture system, says Jacobson.

New Paper Reveals Rail Industry Was Leader in Climate Denial Efforts

Read time: 7 mins

A recent paper analyzing the major players in the organized efforts to attack climate change science and delay action had a surprising revelation — the biggest contributing industry/sector was not oil and gas but rail/steel/coal with the most active organization in the climate denial movement being the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

In the paper, Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis of U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989-2015, author Robert Brulle, looks at “key political coalitions that worked to oppose climate action. In conjunction with their allied trade associations, these coalitions have served as a central coordination mechanism in efforts opposed to mandatory limits on carbon emissions.”

And the allied trade association that was most active was the AAR. Why would the rail industry care about climate change and be active in promoting denial? Coal.

New Estimates Predict a Lot More Renewable Power Growth in the U.S. Very Soon

Read time: 5 mins
Wind turbines

After revising its three-year U.S. power forecast, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has predicted major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022, according to a review of the data by the SUN DAY Campaign, a pro-renewables research and education nonprofit.

FERC's latest three-year projections continue to underscore the dramatic changes taking place in the nation's electrical generating mix,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Renewable energy sources are rapidly displacing uneconomic and environmentally dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power — even faster than FERC had anticipated just a half-year ago.”

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