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New "Frackademia" Report Co-Written by "Converted Climate Skeptic" Richard Muller

By Steve Horn - Posted on 16 December 2013

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for shale gas. The skinny: it's yet another case study of "frackademia," and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled "Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking" and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth "Liz" Muller, it concludes that fracking's climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed "converted skeptic" on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study "about two years ago."

"We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player," he said. "The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking."

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

"They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes," he said. 

This isn't the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, "China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas." 

The Mullers co-head the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), a non-profit that at one time received funding from the Koch brothers. BEST published a study in 2011 affirming that climate change is real and caused by humans

There is an important detail buried on the last page of the Centre for Policy Studies report: Liz Muller's position as founder and Managing Director of the China Shale Fund. One copy of the study is even published on the China Shale Fund's website.

EDF Study, "FrackNation," PM2.5

In their paper, the Mullers rely heavily on the recent University of Texas-Austin fracking climate change study published in October in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. DeSmogBlog characterized that study as another example of "frackademia," science funded by Big Oil with accompanying results favoring the industry's bottom line.

The Mullers' report also cites the Koch Brothers-funded documentary "FrackNation" to dispute the veracity of fracking causing water contamination.

They also juxtapose the PM (particulate matter) 2.5-emitting Chinese coal industry (named such because the PM is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) with a powerful source of energy they claim does not emit PM2.5: shale gas. They do so both in the report itself and in an accompanying YouTube video.

Unmentioned is the fact that fracking has all kinds of accompanying air quality issues of its own, documented comprehensively in Earthworks' recent report, "Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale."

Also unmentioned is the issue of frac sand mining — the fine-grained cyrstaline sillica sand shot down a well to facilitate fracking  which emits immense amounts of PM2.5.

"We were not trying to make a comprehensive review of the subject. Our goal was to alert people to the fact that shale gas, if responsibly developed, can mitigate both air pollution and global warming," Richard Muller told DeSmogBlog when asked why frac sand went undiscussed in his study. "There is nothing intrinsic about the mining of sand that means it cannot be responsibly extracted."

China Shale Fund

Though the title of the report says nothing about China, "China" and/or "Chinese" appears 58 times in the report. BEST is also currently a partner of the non-profit organization Future 500, teaming up to bolster China's rising tiger shale gas industry. 

"One area of focus is the advocacy of clean natural gas standards in China; we need not only standards, but incentives for China to produce natural gas cleanly and migrate away from coal," explains the BEST website of its relationship with Future 500. "Industry can help China’s fledgling shale gas production, facilitating and expediting its development while at the same time helping to ensure high standards and best practices."

China Shale Fund's "About" section on its website also highlights PM2.5.

"The China Shale Fund...seeks to demonstrate that shale gas development can be done responsibly, not only beneficial to the local environment, but providing a clean fuel that will mitigate the air pollution (in particular PM2.5) that otherwise would have come from coal," reads the website.

Richard Muller said that the Fund is not yet a legal entity, nor does it have funding, though Muller acknowledged they are currently working on fundraising. He said: 

The concept is to bring together the appropriate Chinese companies with the appropriate U.S. companies to allow the shale development in China to proceed at a rapid pace. We are new in this too, and our goal in the next 6 months is to develop a business plan. A key part of the concept is that it is not a U.S. government program, but a program that will attract private investors. We believe this is what makes rapid development possible.

Muller also said the Fund's prospective growth did not determine the study's findings, also stating that he and Elizabeth received no funding to put together the report. 

"The existence of the fund is not important to the paper. In fact, the opposite is true. It was the initial recognition of the importance of shale gas for global warming mitigation that led us to think about the fund," Muller said. "Did we hope that the report would spearhead funding? No, of course not." 

Richard Muller has already made several trips to China to talk to the government about bringing fracking there, saying "none were done for the purpose of the Shale Fund." 

"My talks with government officials were fact finding, not presenting any proposals," he said. "We learned about the government interest in getting the U.S. companies involved."

While the Mullers both serve as co-principals of the China Shale Fund, there is a third key principal, as well: Marlan Downey

"Doubling Downey" on Fracking

Marlan Downey is the founder of Roxanna Oil and chairs its Board of Directors. A few members of his family also work there. Downey is a past president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He also sits on the Advisory Board of BEST.

Prior to founding Roxanna, "Downey worked for Shell Oil Company from 1957 to 1987. In 1977, he moved to Shell Oil's International Exploration & Production business and also served as Vice President of Shell," explains his profile appearing on Bloomberg. "[He] joined ARCO International in 1990 as Senior Vice President of Exploration at ARCO International and served as the President of ARCO International and then Senior Vice President and Executive Exploration Advisor to ARCO International...until 1996."

With an expertise in finding emerging shale plays, Roxanna is fully invested in the U.S. fracking boom, partnering up with oil companies such as Shell, Marathon Oil, PetroHunt and Matador Resources to buy hundreds of thousands of acres for fracking in places ranging from the Marcellus Shale, Barnett Shale, Chainman Shale and Woodford Shale

"Roxanna Associates, the consulting arm of Roxanna Oil, has been heavily involved in analyzing and selecting shale gas plays for major clients for many years," explains its website. "The Associates have guided clients to attractive investments in about one million acres of leaseholds."

Roxanna also has an exploration consulting agreement relationship with Kimmeridge Energy, which owns shale gas assets in Wyoming and shale oil assets in places yet to be identified.

Downey spoke on September 18 to the Oklahoma City Geological Society about "the fundamental difficulties of switching China's coal fired electricity to shale gas fired plants," and "his insights that he recently provided to the House of Lords and the British Geological Survey about exploitation of shale gas in the UK." 

Downey's expertise in shale gas exploration makes him a valuable member of the China Shale Fund team. 

"Downey is now a true expert on shale gas, and we expect that he will play an essential role in assembling teams for the exploration of regions in China -- provided that we are able to obtain the necessary data and funding (neither of which we currently have in hand)," Richard Muller told DeSmogBlog.

Study's Biggest Backers: The Frackers

The biggest cheerleaders of the Muller study are the shale gas industry and its public relations echo chamber. 

Nearly everyone who promoted the study on Twitter, for example, receives a paycheck from the industry or an industry front group.

Twitter promoters included Matt Pitzarella — Range Resources Director of Corporate Communications, who admitted his company utilizes psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens at a November 2011 conference — who sent out six tweets promoting the study; industry front group Energy in Depth, Energy in Depth-Marcellus and its social media guy, Energy in Depth-California, among others. 

Energy in Depth also devoted a blog post to promoting the study, written by Katie Brown, former communications director for the climate change-denying U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

"Tale of Two Studies" 

Meanwhile, a report recently published by the Environmental Integrity Project sounds the alarm bell on fracking's climate change footprint. The report evaluates federal government data for industries utilizing gas as a feedstock.

"The shale gas boom has unleashed a tidal wave of proposals to build new compressors and pipelines, and expand chemical, fertilizer, and petroleum plants that depend on natural gas for feedstock or fuel," that report explains. "Since January 1, 2012, these industries have proposed or already obtained...permits that authorize a 91 million ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions — as much as the output from twenty large (500 megawatt) coal-fired power plants." 

The report's caveats, though, make the findings all the more alarming.

"The total does not include new emissions from proposed gas-fired power plants or the multitude of smaller wells, gas processing plants, compressor stations, and flares springing up across the landscape in shale-rich states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas," the report goes on to explain.

Environmental Integrity Projected created a table breaking down the climate change impacts of fracked gas as a feedstock on a sector-by-sector basis.

Famous novelist Charles Dickens wrote "A Tale of Two Cities" and in the case of the Mullers' study juxtaposed with the Environmental Integrity Project study, it's truly a "Tale of Two Studies."

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