What a Gas: Koch Brothers May Get the Last Laugh After All

BEST study supports Koch gas investmentsThe green blogs were buzzing last week with news of a new bombshell report that affirms the role of human activity in global warming. Studies affirming climate science are nothing new to say the least, but this one was produced through the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST), under the auspices of well known climate skeptic Richard A. Muller. The kicker is that BEST is partly funded by the Koch brothers, who have become notorious for their financial support of the “climate change denial machine.”

Hence the bombshell, and with it a lesson in the perils of corporate funding  for scientific research. But is it really a bombshell? Take a closer look at some of the Koch brothers’ energy investments and pair that with another BEST funder, and it’s clear that the new study works in favor of the Koch interests, not against them.

The Koch brothers and natural gas

First off, it’s important to note that not all fossil fuels are due for a quick and brutal end once the so-called climate “skeptic” movement is neutralized.

Fossil fuels will continue to feature prominently in the U.S. energy landscape during a transitional period to low-carbon energy, and proponents of natural gas have positioned this particular fuel to play a key role in the transition, based on the idea that it is “cleaner” than other fossil fuels.

It’s also worth noting that natural gas is not necessarily deserving of this advantage, at least not when it is obtained through fracking.  Fracking is a highly controversial drilling method that involves pumping a toxic chemical brine underground. It has been linked to water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, and even earthquakes.

Be that as it may,  Koch Industries is heavily involved in natural gas, as detailed in an article last spring by Lee Fang in the Republic Report. Its recent activities in the natural gas industry focus on services for fracking operations including pipelines, storage, processing, and supplies.

BEST, Novim and natural gas

That pretty much explains why the new report from BEST is not such bad news for the Koch brothers after all.

In fact, the report is not such bad news for the natural gas industry as a whole, judging by another major funder behind BEST, a non-profit organization called Novim.

According to its website, Novim initiated and sponsored BEST in line with its stated mission, which is “to provide clear scientific options to the most urgent problems facing mankind.” Novim’s mission also focuses on cost/benefit analyses, and it claims to report its findings “without advocacy or agenda.”

That’s all well and good, but Novim’s news page currently leads off with an Associated Press article asserting that evidence of water contamination and public health impacts from gas drilling is “sketchy and inconclusive.”

Other featured articles include a New York Times piece touting increased natural gas production (with a veiled reference to new fracking technology) as a critical factor in carbon emissions management, and a love letter to fracking in the form of a Yale study review published in Forbes.

Aside from BEST, Novim is also involved in at least one other research project with implications for the natural gas industry, an analysis of methane leakage from natural gas drilling. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and critics argue that the leakage effectively neutralizes the low-carbon advantage that natural gas is supposed to have over other fossil fuels.

He who laughs last, laughs BEST…

As for the methodology behind BEST, some critics are already lining up to shoot it down but according to a recent article in The Guardian, others are having themselves a bit of a chuckle over it. For all the media firestorm surrounding BEST, so far it pretty much confirms conclusions about global warming that had already achieved general acceptance back in the 1990’s.

At any rate, regardless of the science it’s a win-win for the Koch brothers. Either the critics are right and BEST contributes little or nothing to the body of climate science, or it is a valid study that happens to support Koch Industries’ investments in the natural gas industry.

Who’s laughing now?

Image: Some rights reserved by todbaker.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

4 responses

  1. Good article, and likely quite accurate.  Frankly, I don’t have that big a problem with natural gas a bridge fuel, the problem is that it might get so cheap that it further delays our transition to a carbon free energy economy.  Unlikley that any politician has the balls to realize this.

  2. I guess Darious doesn’t have fracking in his backyard…..

    More seriously, I wondered about this until I heard the author of the report indict China as the only culprit in human induced warming:   the Koch brothers funding of this report reflects Washington’s panic over China’s advances on the world stage.  Last week, the Mediterranean countries were in a tizzy as Chinese ships en route to Ukraine (sic) passed through ‘their’ sea.

  3. It is true that natural gas is the least polluting of fossil fuels. But fracking remains problematic for the same reason deep water drilling presents challenges. Assessing the pressures of deeply buried and tightly bound gases when first disrupted can lead to unintended results. If the capstone above the gas deposit is porous then gas once released can leach upward into existing aquifers. The gas can also cause earthquakes of varying intensity. So far the earthquakes have been small. And finally the liquids used in fracturing need to be properly disposed of. So although the air may not be the victim of fracking, other areas within the environment are affected.

    1.  “So although the air may not be the victim of fracking, other areas within the environment are affected.”   — including the people whose homes, health, and lives are totally disrupted by the fracking process on or near their land, increasingly thruout the U.S. and all over the world.  Corporate gas/oil industry and bought legislators just don’t care.  Money rules, and runs roughshod over common sense and the incidental victims of blind but rationalized greed..

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