Russia Uses Activists, Web to Slow U.S. Energy Production, Congress Reports

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The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has issued a new report detailing attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy markets through social media campaigns, including encouragement of activists’ protests to block construction of pipelines and new oil and gas projects.

“The Kremlin manipulated various groups in an attempt to carry out its geopolitical agenda, particularly with respect to domestic energy policy,” the report states.

The growth in U.S. energy production, primarily due to fracking, and improved delivery infrastructure such as expanded pipelines and the construction of natural gas export terminals, threatens Russia’s geopolitical and economic influence, the report states. To slow the growth of U.S production, the Russian government has conducted a concerted campaign to disrupt and undermine U.S. energy markets by fomenting fears of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change and exaggerating dangers to air and water quality from new oil and gas production and transportation, says the report.

Exploiting Social Media, Activists

Sifting through thousands of documents from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Science Committee staff identified Russian accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Saint Petersburg-based company established by the Russian government to use social and traditional media platforms to advance propaganda and viewpoints.

Between 2015 and 2017, IRA created an estimated 4,334 accounts across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, producing an estimated 9,097 posts or tweets on U.S. energy policy or energy-related events, according to the report. Dozens of posts encouraged activists to protest pipeline construction, with many specifically targeting the Dakota Access Pipeline by promoting links to online petitions opposing it.

In addition, the Russian government funneled money through surrogates to U.S. environmental organizations to finance their efforts to demonize U.S. fossil fuel companies and those doing business with them and to foment protests against specific energy projects and policies, the report states.

“This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market,” said committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in a press statement. “Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking, and climate change.”

Confirms Previous Findings

The new report is not the first time government officials have documented attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy production.

“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 new report said. “The report found that the Russian-sponsored news agency RT (formerly Russian [sic] 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.’”

Russia also worked actively to prevent fracking and oil and gas development in Europe.

The report quotes Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then Secretary General of NATO, telling 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.”

‘Protecting Their Fragile Economy’

John Droz, physicist and founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, says Russia’s campaign against U.S. fossil fuel development is a matter of obvious self-interest.

“Fossil fuel exports account for around 16 percent of Russian GDP, 52 percent of government revenue, and 70 percent of Russian exports, so it makes sense Russian propaganda efforts would be focused on protecting their fragile economy,” Droz said. “Just like the Sierra Club and their green allies, Russia shares the goal of shutting down U.S. nuclear energy facilities, keeping America’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, raising the costs of fossil fuels through carbon taxes, and forcing a high percentage of the U.S. electric grid to rely on intermittent sources of renewable energy.”

Droz says it may surprise some to find the Russian government’s interests align with those of U.S. environmental activist groups.

“To most people it is a startling realization to see when it comes to U.S. energy policy, there is an almost identical agenda between the leadership of some nongovernmental organizations and countries who are our national enemies,” said Droz. “If Russia and environmental groups have their way in the United States, coal, gas, and oil will stay in the ground, energy costs will rise, and the electric grid will be less reliable. This will harm our economy and national security.”

Arctic Energy Cold War

Ron Arnold, executive vice-president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, says Russia’s militarization of the Arctic to stake oil and gas claims is even more dangerous to U.S. national security than its support for anti-fossil fuel protests.

“Russia has more direct, confrontational ways of competing with American energy production than supporting anti-fossil fuel groups,” Arnold said.

“Russia is militarizing the Arctic, in large part to secure oil and gas,” said Arnold. “Three years ago, Stratfor, the global intelligence organization, released a report detailing how Russia had laid claim to great swaths of Arctic oil and gas by deploying offshore oil rigs, building gigantic nuclear-powered icebreakers, and creating a huge new strategic military command: the Northern Fleet, which represents two-thirds of the entire Russian Navy.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News.

PHOTO: Kazan temple and Historical museum. A part of Red square, Moscow, Russia. Photo by Flickr user Andrey. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

H. Sterling Burnett

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

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