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Russian Agents Attempted to ‘Influence’ and ‘Directly Undermine’ U.S. Shale Gas, House Report Finds

Erin Mundahl, Inside Sources

For months, House Committees and a Special Counsel have been investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Even as these investigations continue to make headlines, interference in American energy markets, which was likely even more successful, has received relatively little attention.

According to new findings from the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, Russian agents worked to manipulate specific groups inside the U.S. in order to “disrupt domestic energy markets, suppress research and development of fossil fuels, and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas.”

Russian attempts to spread disinformation about domestic energy production used many of the same techniques Russian agents deployed during the presidential campaign. The House Committee identified 9,097 Russian posts or tweets pertaining to U.S. energy policy or energy events appearing on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter between 2015 and 2017. These posts came from an estimated 4,334 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a firm established to use traditional and new media platforms to spread Russian propaganda.

America’s transition in 2017 from a net fuel importer to a net fuel exporter has fundamentally shifted global energy markets. The trend is projected to continue in 2018, and to place the U.S. on an equivalent production level with Russia in 2019. This has had a significant effect on Russia, which provides about 75 percent of the natural gas used in Central and Eastern Europe and even higher percentages in Southeastern Europe.

As a result, Russia is known to have been involved in anti-fracking campaigns since at least 2014. According to a report last year by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Russian government was actively “financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.” Efforts include programming on the Russian-sponsored news agency RT highlighting the dangers and environmental impacts of fracking.

This approach pairs with Russian efforts to persuade EU governments to end shale gas exploration. According to a report by Sen. Ben Cardin (D, Md.), the Russian government invested $95 million into NGOs working to stop European shale exploration.

“By leveraging the sincerely held views and beliefs of unwitting agents, the Kremlin is able to exploit polarized issues in American democracy to influence action in furtherance of its agenda,” the House committee writes in its report.

More recently, these issues included the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, and Enbridge Line 5.

“Russian agents attempted to incite Americans to take action against pipeline efforts by promoting links and references to online petitions,” the committee wrote.

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