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.

Safety Officials Order Partial Shutdown of Sabine Pass LNG Export Facility After Discovering 10-Year History of Leaks

Read time: 7 mins
Sabine Pass LNG Export Facility

Sabine Pass, for now the only liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in the country, has reportedly been experiencing safety issues for the past decade, and yet federal safety officials were only informed of this history while investigating the terminal's latest leak in January. Owned by Cheniere Energy, Sabine Pass is located on the Gulf Coast on the border of Texas and Louisiana.

Is This New Tar Sands Technology a Game Changer for Exporting Canada's Bitumen?

Read time: 7 mins
Hockey pucks

A new technology has the potential to transform the transportation of tars sands oil. Right now, the already thick and slow-flowing oil, known as bitumen, has to be diluted with a super-light petroleum product, usually natural gas condensate, in order for it to flow through a pipeline or into a rail tank car. 

However, scientists at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering inadvertently found a way to make tar sands oil even more viscous, turning it into “self-sealing pellets” that could potentially simplify its transport.

EPA Chief Downplays Global Warming as Unexpected Climate Impacts Stack up

Read time: 8 mins
Cape Town, South Africa

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is well-known for his comments denying the established science of climate change, and this week he touted yet another talking point of the climate denial community.

“I think there's assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing,” Pruitt said in an interview with Nevada's KSNV television and as reported by E&E News. But from Cape Town, South Africa's water woes to mercury in melting permafrost, the decidedly negative impacts of global warming are already manifesting themselves, often in unexpected ways.

The Oil Industry and That Amazing Floating Tar Sands Oil

Read time: 7 mins
Protester holding a sign that says 'Remember the Kalamazoo'

More than seven years have passed since an Enbridge oil pipeline ruptured and spilled more than a million gallons of tar sands oil, also known as diluted bitumen, near a tributary leading to Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Once in the water, the oil — which spill responders initially did not know was tar sands oil — ended up sinking to the sediment on the river bottom and causing major environmental impacts for wildlife and plants. 

Yet even today, the oil industry still claims that tar sands oil floats.

Washington Governor Inslee Rejects Major Oil-by-Rail Project

Read time: 5 mins
Vancouver, Washington port

On January 29, Washington Governor Jay Inslee rejected a permit required for Tesoro-Savage to build the Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail facility, the largest such project in the nation, at the Port of Vancouver, along the Washington-Oregon border. The governor explained the basis of his decision, which followed a several year long process, in a letter to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council:

Rail Workers Acquitted in Trial on Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster

Read time: 15 mins
Aerial view of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after the oil train explosion and fires

The train engineer and two additional rail workers who faced charges for the deadly July 2013 oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, were acquitted on Friday after the jury deliberated for nine days. If convicted of all charges, they potentially faced life in prison. 

The end of the trial of these three employees for their role in the Canadian oil train disaster that resulted in 47 deaths and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic appears to have brought some closure to residents of the still-recovering town — although most are still waiting for justice.

As the trial began, the BBC reported the sentiments of Lac-Mégantic resident Jean Paradis, who lost three friends in the accident and thought the wrong people were on trial.

Unfractured: A Documentary on Activism, Family and the Fight Against Fracking

Read time: 4 mins
Sandra Steingraber in Unfractured

Unfractured, the new documentary about environmental activist and ecologist Dr. Sandra Steingraber, is primarily about the personal sacrifices made by individuals like Steingraber while fighting for environmental causes and future generations.

I try to tell my kids, 'Mom is on the job,'” Steingraber explains. “That is my job. To protect you and to plan for your future.” However, as Steingraber makes clear elsewhere in the film, we learn the reality: “It is not possible to do it all.”

While the documentary primarily follows the battle against fracking in New York, Steingraber also travels to Romania to meet with anti-fracking protesters there and then returns to New York to join efforts to stop natural gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns.

New York City Will Divest Pension Funds from Fossil Fuel Companies

Read time: 6 mins
Simulation showing flooding in New York City

Today New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced a goal to divest New York City’s pension funds from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years. This makes New York the first major American city to announce such a move.

According to a statement, the city’s five pension funds have approximately $5 billion invested in over 190 fossil fuel companies.

“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major U.S. city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” said Mayor de Blasio. “At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits.”

Port of Vancouver Votes to End Lease for West Coast Oil-by-Rail Terminal

Read time: 5 mins

This week, three port commissioners in Vancouver, Washington, put another nail in the coffin for Vancouver Energy's proposed crude-by-rail facility when the commission voted to not renew the company's lease if the project did not have all required permits and licenses by March 31. This move is expected to effectively end the project.

Momentum for this vote began in November when Don Orange joined the port commission after a resounding victory against a challenger who was heavily funded by the oil industry. Orange, on the other hand, promised to oppose Vancouver Energy's planned construction of the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.

Trump and the Rail Industry Had a Great First Year Together

Read time: 8 mins
Oil tank cars

The election of Donald Trump was a big win for the oil and rail industries. Shortly after the election, Edward Hamberger, CEO of the trade group the Association of American Railroads, addressed a conference in New York City, noting that “the policy landscape in Washington, D.C., dramatically shifted on Election Day.”

The trade publication Railway Age also reported Hamberger saying that “Washington leaders can be powerful change agents in fixing a broken regulatory system.”

Of course when the top rail lobbyist talks about “fixing” a broken regulatory system, what he means is moving to a system where the rail industry regulates itself — which is why the rail industry is so fond of President Trump. And why the American public should worry.

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