How Russia Tried to Block US Energy Production

Russia’s supposed “meddling” in the 2016 election has been an endless topic of news coverage, but for some reason our press has shown little interest in other instances of Russian meddling–the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, for example, or more recently, Russia’s effort to discredit fracking and rouse popular opposition to pipeline construction.

Last Thursday, the Majority Staff of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology released a report titled “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media.” It doesn’t seem to have gotten as much attention as it deserves.

The House report notes Russia’s strong interest in depressing petroleum production in the U.S. (“American energy represents a direct threat to Russian energy interests.”) Russia has defended its interests by funding American environmental organizations:

Russian-sponsored agents funneled money to U.S. environmental organizations in an attempt to portray energy companies in a negative way and disrupt domestic energy markets.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then-Secretary General of NATO, told reporters in 2014, “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.”

Could we have a little accountability here? Which environmental organizations took money from Russia to try to weaken the American energy sector? Did they do it wittingly or unwittingly? What was the Russian money used for? Our press has shown a remarkable lack of curiosity about these basic questions.

Russia tried to discredit fracking and encourage opposition to pipeline construction:

Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. energy policy are well documented in the public domain. U.S. presidential candidates, European officials, and the U.S. intelligence community have all publicly noted that Russia and its government corporations are funding a covert anti-fracking campaign to suppress the widespread adoption of fracking in Europe and the U.S., all in an effort to protect the influence of the Russian oil and gas sector.
In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that contained “clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.” The report found that the Russian-sponsored news agency RT (formerly Russia Today) “r[an] anti-fracking programing, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health,” which “is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and the U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to [Russian energy companies’] profitability,” such as state-controlled Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The Russians used social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to push their messages, which generally played well with American liberals:

The Russian content targeting pipelines was not limited to the [Dakota Access Pipeline]. Russian posts also targeted several other pipelines, including Sabal Trail, Keystone XL, Colonial, Bayou Bridge, and Enbridge Line 5. Additionally, the efforts of the Russian agents went beyond stirring up existing controversy surrounding the pipelines. Russian agents attempted to incite Americans to take action against pipeline efforts by promoting links and references to online petitions. Numerous tweets, for example, encouraged viewers to follow links to petitions aimed at stopping the Dakota Access, Sabal Trail, and Enbridge Line 5 pipelines. This demonstrates that Russian agents attempted to directly influence the American energy industry. Russians, through [social media] posts, engaged in a concerted effort to undermine U.S. energy production.

These are some of the Russians’ social media posts. This one got a remarkable 1,794 likes on Instagram:

This one peddles fake news about “green energy” in Iowa. Once again, the number of likes is striking:

Russia cynically tried to block the Dakota Access pipeline by feigning sympathy with Native Americans. Here’s a question: who paid for the Dakota Access protests? Was it Russia, or American liberals? Both, presumably. Were their motives the same, or different?

More along the same lines, from the Russians’ “Blacktivist” account:

Russia promoted “climate change” as a way to block U.S. fossil fuel development:

The Russians also used energy issues to sow regional discord, through a much smaller pro-drilling effort on social media. But their interests lay, obviously, in the other direction. Here, the Russians show a good sense of how American liberals think:

Russia’s anti-fracking and anti-pipeline campaign went farther than its participation in the presidential election. Russia not only spread propaganda through RT and American social media, it also donated money to allegedly respectable American environmental organizations. How much? We don’t know.

What we do know is that the effort to suppress American energy production meant a lot more to Russia’s rulers than its mischievous support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and opposition to Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. We know that the Russians spent only a few million dollars on their election “meddling.” How much did they spend to support American liberals in their effort to block U.S. energy development? We don’t know, but I, for one, would be very interested to find out.

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