By Bonner Cohen, Ph.D. ~
The Kremlin has masterminded an elaborate scheme to undermine American fossil-fuel production and distribution, concludes a report by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Released March 1, the report, “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media,” reveals how Russia has teamed up with U.S. and European environmental groups to use such popular outlets as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to turn American public opinion against the domestic oil and natural gas industry.
With the United States having surpassed Russia as the world’s largest producer of natural gas, and now ranking as the world’s fastest-growing producer of oil, the Russians have reason to fear what is more than a little competition. Saying America’s soaring energy development “poses a direct threat to Russian energy interests,” the report explains:
“First, an abundance of American energy supply in the global energy marketplace stands to reduce Russian market share and thus revenues generated from oil and gas activities. Second, by providing supply alternatives to European countries dependent on Russian supply and infrastructure, American energy stands to disrupt the Kremlin’s ability to leverage energy consumption for geopolitical influence.”
Threat to Russia’s Dominant Position in European Gas Markets
The study points out that Russia provides roughly 75% of the natural gas imported by countries in Central and Eastern Europe while countries in Southeast Europe receive almost all their natural gas from Russia. “Russia’s Gazprom has acknowledged for the first time a threat to its dominant position in the European gas market from an expected influx of liquified natural gas (LNG) produced in the United States under the [Trump] administration,” the report cites Reutersas saying.
Poland, for example, recently signed a five-year agreement to import LNG from the U.S. in an attempt to decrease its dependence on Russian natural gas.
“As the threat of American energy continues to grow, so does the Kremlin’s incentive to influence energy operations in Europe and the United States,” the report notes.
Launching Propaganda from Social Media Platforms
Meticulous research by the House committee has unearthed a sophisticated Kremlin plan to disrupt its unwanted energy competitor. Aware that fracking, horizontal drilling, and the construction of a state-of-the-art energy distribution system in the U.S. would further erode Moscow’s once-powerful position, the Kremlin turned to social media to get its message out. After complying with the committee’s request for documentation, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram turned over material linking to a St. Petersburg company, Internet Research Agency (IRA), which was quickly identified as having been created by the Russian government. IRA’s use of American social media platforms to spread anti-U.S. fossil-fuel propaganda was summarized by the committee’s report as follows:
- Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 9,097 Russian posts or tweets regarding U.S. energy policy or a current energy event on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
- Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 4,334 IRA accounts across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
- According to information provided by Twitter, more than four percent of all IRA tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, a significant portion of the content when compared with the eight percent of the tweets related to the 2016 U.S. election.
- Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence U.S. energy policy.
- The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues in the U.S.
Pipelines have been a favorite target of Russian posts on social media platforms. Pipelines targeted include Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Colonial, Bayou Bridge, and Embridge Line 5.
In conjunction with the committee’s findings, the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded the American affiliate of the Russian network RT register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). FARA requires that agents representing the interests of foreign governments in any political or quasi-political capacity disclose public communications aimed at influencing American political debate or public policy.
In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a report stating there is “clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.” And Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Delaware) has referred to environmental activists as “useful idiots” for doing the Kremlin’s bidding when it comes to U.S. energy production.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. is a senior policy analyst with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).