By Craig Rucker
America’s oil and gas production is booming of late, with the US poised to become the world’s largest exporter of crude oil. Domestic natural gas is also ramping up, enabling the US to become a net exporter for the first time in almost 60 years.
All of this is good news, since the US is setting new records for gas exports. But America’s shale gas revolution may have another benefit: It could supplant much of Russia’s natural gas production.
If the US were to topple Russia as a gas kingpin, that would be a good thing—since it could weaken Vladimir Putin’s troubling hold over Europe’s energy supplies. Right now, Russia provides roughly 75 percent of the natural gas for Central and Eastern Europe. Being a major gas supplier has enabled Putin to bully EU nations with threats to close winter pipelines.
Russia certainly hopes to maintain its market dominance, though. And that leads to a curious and unexpected new “Russian interference” story.
A few weeks ago, the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology issued a report on Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets. The Committee revealed that Russian agents have been “exploiting American social media platforms in an effort to disrupt domestic energy markets.”
It’s not surprising that Russia could meddle in US social media. We’ve heard plenty about that since the 2016 election. But there are some worrying implications. As House committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) observed, there “appears to be a concerted effort by foreign entities to funnel millions of dollars through various non-profit entities to influence the U.S. energy market.”
Smith cites NATO’s former Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “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.”
The House committee believes that “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.”
The committee found that “the Kremlin is manipulating environmental groups in an attempt to carry out their agenda.” The question is whether prominent and widely respected environmental groups may have unwittingly aided a Russian agenda to hamper America’s energy sector. Last year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported “clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.”
What exactly did the Kremlin’s campaign look like? The House Committee cites numerous Facebook posts focused on fracking and climate change. The Dakota Access Pipeline was a frequent target, with Russian agents using Instagram to share “images related to Native American social and political issues.” Through frequent social media posting, “Russian-linked accounts targeted highly visible tension points in America, including protests against pipelines.”
The Keystone XL Pipeline was another target: “Russian agents attempted to incite Americans to take action against pipeline efforts by promoting links and references to online petitions.”
Essentially, Russian agents are using social media to champion opposition to oil and gas production. The committee observed that, “Regardless of one’s political or ideological views surrounding U.S. energy policy and climate change, the American people deserve to be free from foreign political interference.”
With many millions of dollars being spent to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, the American people should know whether social media messaging is accurate. And environmental groups should remain vigilant when accepting funds from foreign entities who may not have America’s best interests at heart.
Craig Rucker is the president of CFACT, a Washington, D.C.-based public-policy organization founded in 1985.