Proponents of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) have seized upon a paragraph found within the recent national intelligence report examining Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. elections to push a long-promoted but unfounded claim: that Russia and President Vladimir Putin fund the U.S. anti-fracking movement.
The multi-agency intelligence report centered around the conclusion that “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” and that “the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
After outlining some ways Russia has worked to influence the U.S. political terrain and its recent email hacking activities, the brief report then devotes seven pages to explaining the phenomenon of the Russian government-funded TV network RT (formerly known as Russia Today).
In that section, the report says that “RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability.”
Now, a vast petrostate like Russia most likely is not giving a voice to the U.S. anti-fracking movement on its state-funded media network for the altruistic cause of ecological justice. But pro-fracking factions took these two sentences and proceeded to perform exceptional gymnastics of logic based on that information.
Image Credit: U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence
A case in point is Tucker Carlson, host of the (now primetime) Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” who said that environmental groups were “taking their cues from Russia propaganda masters” (see video starting at 5:36).
“If Greenpeace comes out and says fracking is dangerous, don't you sort of wonder, 'Well maybe they got that from their Russian spymasters who are kind of controlling them,'” said Carlson. “I mean, that's what the report's saying, that the Russians are trying to make us against fracking.”
Minutes before Carlson's show began, the conservative news outlet he co-founded — The Daily Caller, with which he is no longer affiliated — ran a story on that same part of the report. After covering the two sentences in the report about RT's coverage of fracking, Daily Caller also trumpeted allegations that the global anti-fracking movement takes funding and its cues from the Kremlin.
“Industry experts have speculated for years Russia was working behind the scenes and funding anti-fracking movements,” wrote The Daily Caller. “Eastern European officials claimed Russia is backing environmental protesters at potential fracking sites in Romania and Bulgaria.”
Indeed, they have “speculated” that “for years.” But they've never provided any credible evidence in the form of an actual paper trail.
Conspiracy Roots Tied to API, Stratfor
As DeSmog reported in 2014, the conspiracy theory that Russia funds the anti-fracking movement was first pushed in 2010 by Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), the Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm. The firm was strategizing to discredit anti-fracking film Gasland's producer and director, Josh Fox, after a June 21, 2010 appearance he made on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
“He said his film was paid for by HBO,” wrote a Stratfor agent in a June, 23 2010 email. “However, I would be interested to see who else funded this documentary (ie Coal or Russia, etc.).”
[Ironically enough this email was published by Wikileaks, which sits at the center of the intelligence report for releasing the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) hacked emails. Wikileaks has denounced the federal report.]
For years afterward, this talking point that “Russia funds the anti-fracking movement” was deployed often by policy-making elites and other talking heads, including the former head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in the film “FrackNation” made by climate change denier Philem McAleer, and elsewhere.
Energy in Depth (EID), an industry-funded and pro-fracking front group, wrote a blog post pointing to Clinton's statements alleging — without evidence — that Russia funds the anti-fracking movement while using the recent intelligence report to bolster this narrative.
“This cozy collaboration between leaders of the U.S. anti-fracking movement and RT considered, we would be remiss not to note it was just three months ago that leaked documents containing a number of private speeches given by Hillary Clinton confirmed long-held suspicions the Russians have been funding what she called 'phony' anti-fracking efforts across the globe,” wrote EID.
EID made similar comments about the U.S. anti-fracking movment in an article published by Bloomberg. Furthermore, EID insinuated that Putin, who has made comments critical of fracking in the past, may be funding the Keep It In The Ground movement. This is a coalition of groups which have pushed to keep oil and gas reserves untapped on U.S. federal government-owned public lands in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“If these claims sound familiar, it’s probably because they are alarmingly similar to the ones repeated by the Keep-It-In-The-Ground (KIITG) movement,” wrote EID. “So in many ways, KIITG’s agenda mirrors that of Russia. Obviously, that agenda is not in the best interest of America or the rest of the world.”
Denton, Texas Case Study
One of the most visible examples of this accusation in recent years can be found in Denton, Texas. It was there during the 2014 election cycle that advocates who successfully pushed for passage of an anti-fracking referendum were tarred by a Texas oil and gas regulatory official as being linked to Putin.
David Porter, formerly a member of Texas' oil and gas regulatory agency (confusingly named the Texas Railroad Commission), issued a press release in September 2014, two months before the election, titled, “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy: Underhanded Anti-Hydraulic Fracturing Campaign Designed to Drive Dollars from US to Russia.”
“[Russia's] apparent strategy includes funding anti-hydraulic fracturing environmental organizations, placing misinformation in the public, and even mass media propaganda — namely their assistance with the distribution of Gasland, an incredibly deceitful film about hydraulic fracturing in America,” Porter wrote in a letter accompanying the press release, which was addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Dallas Observer reported that the alleged Putin connection had snaked its way into the talking points of volunteers working to encourage voters to nix the fracking ban proposal.
“They invoked Putin and Russia, brought up city leaders, the people that were spearheading Frack-Free Denton, anybody that had to do with the ban and tried to link them with some nefarious cause and make it political,” a Denton resident told the Observer. “They said something like, if you knew that Putin was in contact with the city to pass the ban, would you still support it?”
Ironic Full Circle
While several fracking industry advocates tweeted this nugget from the U.S. intelligence report on Russia, they omitted the most interesting — but unanalyzed — detail of the Russia-U.S. fracking nexus. That is, U.S. oil and gas industry titan ExxonMobil has teamed up with Russian state-owned oil and gas industry giant Rosneft to tap into Russia's massive Bazhenov Shale basin in Siberia.
The technology of choice for exploiting this shale gas? Fracking, of course.
Currently under sanction by the U.S., this stalled business relationship could be revived should President-elect Donald Trump lift sanctions once taking office. That question would be overseen by Rex Tillerson, the recently retired ExxonMobil CEO and nominee for U.S. Secretary of State. Tillerson actually appeared on RT in 2012 to discuss the Exxon-Rosneft partnership in the Bazhenov and beyond.
“There is a lot of tight oil, shale oil potential in west Siberia in a lot of the oil, mature fields and so what I think they hope to do is primarily learn,” Tillerson told RT. “They'll have people that'll be assigned in our organization in the United States, they'll be working alongside our engineers and geoscientists, to understand how we're doing this so that can be brought back to west Siberia.”
But how much we'll hear about this last point in Tillerson's Senate confirmation hearing, scheduled for January 11, remains to be seen.
Image Credit: U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence