Tuesday, March 6, 2018

GWPF Newsletter: Russia’s Secret Campaign Against U.S. Energy Policy Revealed








U.S. House Committee Reveals Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media

In this newsletter:

1) Russia’s Secret Campaign Against U.S. Energy Policy Revealed
The Wall Street Journal, 1 March 2018
 
2) Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media
United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Majority Staff Report, 1 March 2018


 
3) Gazprom: Russia Is EU’s Energy Guardian as Cold Grips Europe
Bloomberg, 2 March 2018
 
4) Reminder: Putin TV Station ‘Stokes Fracking Fears’
The Times, 6 August 2016
 
5) Europe’s Green Madness: Russia’s Grip On Anti-Fracking EU Tightening
OilPrice.com, 3 January 2018


Full details:

1) Russia’s Secret Campaign Against U.S. Energy Policy Revealed
The Wall Street Journal, 1 March 2018


A Russian-backed propaganda group used social media in an attempt to disrupt the U.S. energy industry and influence energy policy, according to a new congressional staff report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.



Unlike other Russian campaigns to stir political unrest in the U.S., this effort by the tech-savvy Internet Research Agency is characterized as mostly one-sided, agitating against American fossil-fuel production in a way lawmakers believe was aimed at benefiting Russia, the world’s largest oil producer.

Starting in 2015, workers at the IRA posted photos and messages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter  encouraging protests against pipeline construction in the U.S., calling for the abandonment of fossil fuels and stoking American controversy around climate change, according to the report by the majority staff on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

It isn’t clear how much influence, if any, the campaign had on U.S. energy policy. Many of the posts were shared by only a handful of followers, the report says. But the messages came at a critical time for Russia, after oil and gas prices began to plummet due to booming output in the U.S. that posed a major threat to one of Russia’s most important industries.

“To the extent that America produces more energy of any kind, it guarantees Russia more competition,” Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Science Committee, said in an interview. “Russia wants to reduce competition from the United States.”

The Russian embassy in Washington declined to comment on the new meddling allegations. In response to questions, it sent prior comments from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denying claims that Russians used social media to create discord in the U.S.

The new report was written by Republican staff on the House Science Committee. It is based on data supplied by Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., which have faced criticism from lawmakers over the role of their social networks in facilitating the spread of misinformation and divisive content.

Rep. Smith said Facebook and Twitter cooperated with the committee’s requests. Both companies have said they took down all IRA accounts last year because they violated their policies.

People close to Facebook and Twitter confirmed they shared data with the House Science Committee. A Twitter spokeswoman added that the IRA’s tweets represented an “extremely small” portion of the broader energy discussion on Twitter.

The IRA opened its opinion-influencing unit in 2014 with the goal of spreading distrust in the U.S., according to a federal indictment secured by special counsel Robert Mueller in mid-February.

The IRA in 2015 started targeting U.S. energy policy in its posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, according to the report. Around that time, the U.S. energy boom began putting the U.S. and Russia in fierce competition. U.S. production had burst out of a long decline as companies learned how to tap shale rock for oil and natural gas.

Between 2015 and 2017, the IRA posted more than 9,000 times about U.S. energy policy or an energy event, according to the report. More than 4% of all IRA tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, compared with the 8% of the IRA tweets related to the U.S. election, the report says.

“If true, this is extremely troubling, and not just from the perspective of the pipeline industry,” said Don Santa, leader of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents interstate gas-pipeline companies. “It would illustrate the pervasiveness of Russia’s attempt to sabotage our economy and energy security and undermine trust in our government.”

Russia has responded to the growth of American oil production with an unprecedented deal to cut its oil production in coordination with other big exporters, an effort to cap supply and stabilize plunging prices. President Donald Trump seized on the issue early in his tenure and promised policies to boost output and exports even further as a bulwark against Russia.
Pipelines were allegedly one of the primary targets of the Russian actors. Many of the posts encouraged protests of pipeline construction, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL and Colonial pipelines, the report says.

Full story
 

2) Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media
United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Majority Staff Report, 1 March 2018


Executive Summary

The purpose of this report is to provide the American people with the findings of the Committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets.

First, the report discusses several factors driving the Kremlin’s desire to interfere with U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy. Next, it demonstrates how the Kremlin manipulated various groups in an attempt to carry out its geopolitical agenda, particularly with respect to domestic energy policy. Finally, this report provides an assessment of the Committee's findings, including examples of Russian-propagated content targeting U.S. energy markets and domestic energy policy. The facts put into perspective the nature and extent of the Kremlin's energy influence-peddling operation.

The Committee began investigating Russian attempts to influence U.S. energy markets in the summer of 2017 when Chairman Smith wrote the Secretary of Treasury regarding Russia’s intricate money-laundering scheme. 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.1

Upon discovering that Russia may have exploited American social media platforms to accomplish its disruptive objectives, the Committee broadened the scope of its investigation. On September 26, 2017, the Committee requested data from Facebook and Twitter as part of this expanded investigation.2

Documents that the American social media companies produced for the Committee confirmed that Russian agents were exploiting American social media platforms in an effort to disrupt domestic energy markets, suppress research and development of fossil-fuels, and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas.

Subsequent to the Committee’s initial request, media revelations indicated that Russian operatives, “intent on exploiting existing divisions and social movements in the United States,” had in fact sought to influence U.S. energy markets by exploiting American social media platforms.3

According to the media report, Russian agents exploited Instagram by “shar[ing] images related to Native American social and political issues—including the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”4 Moreover, many of the Russian-linked accounts targeted “highly visible tension points” in America, including “protests against pipelines.”5

These revelations bolstered the Committee’s suspicions that Russia was actively engaged in a concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy and was exploiting American social media platforms in an attempt to carry out this objective. As such, the Committee reiterated to the American social media companies its interest in information regarding Russian entities purchasing advertisements or posting content targeting domestic energy markets. On October 31, 2017, Chairman Smith again wrote the social media companies requesting information.6

The Committee received and reviewed the companies’ produced documents for evidence of Russian influence. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were able to identify Russian accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg established by the Russian government for the purpose of deceptively using various social and traditional media platforms to advance Russian propaganda.

The information received from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram shows that Russian agents indeed sought to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy by exploiting American social media platforms.

Findings

* 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 Twitter, Facebook, and 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 content when compared to the eight percent of IRA tweets that were related to the election in the U.S.

* Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy.

* The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.

Full report
 

3) Gazprom: Russia Is EU’s Energy Guardian as Cold Grips Europe
Bloomberg, 2 March 2018


The bitter cold from Italy to Scandinavia has given Gazprom, Europe’s biggest natural gas supplier, an opportunity to highlight its importance.

“The deep freeze has shown once again that only Gazprom is capable of increasing gas supplies to European customers to maximum levels at a breakneck speed,” Alexey Miller, the chief executive officer of Moscow-based Gazprom PJSC, said in an emailed reply to questions. “There’s no other supplier that could cope with the task.”

The state-run exporter ended February with record-high shipments to Europe, its main market. Russia has been boosting gas supplies to unprecedented levels as the region’s demand increases and domestic production drops, leading to concerns it is using the fuel as a political lever to pressure critics and reward allies.

The recent cold snap that rattled energy markets across Europe boosted Gazprom’s daily exports from Feb. 18 to Feb. 28 by more than 16 percent, or 99.2 million cubic meters a day. That’s higher than supplies to Italy, Gazprom’s second-biggest market in the European Union, according to Miller.

Full story





4) Reminder: Putin TV Station ‘Stokes Fracking Fears’
The Times, 6 August 2016


The Kremlin-backed television station RT has been accused of scaremongering about fracking in Britain to prevent the industry from developing.

A viable shale gas industry in Europe would reduce the continent’s reliance on gas imported from Russia.

Cuadrilla, which wants to extract shale gas in Lancashire, has complained to Ofcom that RT breached the broadcasting code by making false statements.

RT regularly interviews anti- fracking campaigners and some of its presenters make frequent comments attacking the technology.

Max Keiser, an American broadcaster who presents the Keiser Report with his wife Stacy Herbert, has said in broadcasts that “frackers are the moral equivalent of paedophiles” and fracking is giving British children cancer.

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said: “RT’s broadcasts on UK shale gas frequently have no factual basis and seem designed to instil fear in the public. One assumes RT would prefer the UK and Europe to rely on poorly regulated imports of gas, primarily from Russia, rather than taking control of our own energy future.”

There has been no fracking in Britain since 2011 when it was temporarily banned after causing minor earthquakes in Lancashire. In May, Third Energy won permission to frack an existing gas well in North Yorkshire.

An episode of the Keiser Report last month featured a discussion with an anti-fracking activist, Tina Louise Rothery, who faces a £55,000 bill after a legal dispute with Cuadrilla over trespassing on a field that it rented near Blackpool.

During the discussion, Ms Herbert twice said Cuadrilla had been guilty of “dumping toxic waste off of [sic] Africa”. She appears to have confused Cuadrilla with Trafigura, which was accused of making thousands of people ill in Ivory Coast in 2006 by dumping toxic waste. The commodity trading company later paid Ivorians £30 million in an out-of court settlement without admitting liability.

Ms Herbert said yesterday: “I apologise for mis-speaking.” RT defended its coverage, referring to academic, geological and regulatory studies and reports about the industry’s risks and consequences.

Since the channel started broadcasting in the UK about a decade ago, Ofcom has upheld 15 complaints against it for breaching broadcasting rules, often on impartiality.

Cuadrilla said that it had never had any operations in Africa and never disposed of any waste there. It said that broadcasters should be especially careful to be accurate over fracking because, under the broadcasting code, it qualifies as a matter of “particular public interest”.
The company said that Ofcom “has upheld numerous complaints about [RT] without any noticeable impact on accuracy”. It urged the regulator to impose a “severe statutory sanction”.

A spokesman for Ofcom said: “We take robust action against broadcasters who break our rules. We have made clear to RT that non-compliance is unacceptable.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Nato secretary general, has previously accused Moscow of campaigning to undermine fracking.

In eastern Europe, where Russia supplies energy needs, Moscow was suspected of being behind “pop-up” anti-fracking movements.
 

5) Europe’s Green Madness: Russia’s Grip On Anti-Fracking EU Tightening
OilPrice.com, 3 January 2018


Despite years of effort from the EU, Russia’s grip over natural gas supplies in Europe is tightening, not waning.



Gazprom shipped 190 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe in 2017—a record high, according to Bloomberg. In 2018, that figure is expected to dip slightly to 180 billion cubic meters, which will still be the second most on record.

The higher reliance on Russian gas may come as a surprise, not least because of the ongoing tension between Russia and some European countries on a variety of issues. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in 2014 led to a standoff between Russia and the West—but Europe’s imports of Russian gas are up more than 25 percent since then, despite a lot of rhetoric in Brussels about diversification.

There has been some progress. U.S. LNG has begun arriving on European shores for the first time, promising to compete with Russian gas. Importing LNG has been a lifeline particularly in some areas that are acutely exposed to Russia’s gas grip. Lithuania began importing LNG, offering an alternative to Russian gas and forcing price concessions from Gazprom.

For years, U.S. LNG has been billed as somewhat of a game changer, threatening to end Russia’s control of the European market. There have been some notable concessions from Gazprom—more flexible pricing, for example, and an erosion of oil-indexed pricing—but the Russian gas giant has not lost market share. A lot of U.S. LNG has been shipped to Latin America, not Europe.

Part of the reason is that European natural gas production continues to fall, leaving a void that Russia has been eager to fill. At the same time, Gazprom’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alexander Medvedev told Bloomberg that coal prices are expected to rise a bit in 2018, making Russian gas more competitive.

Meanwhile, Russia is not leaving the LNG game to the Americans. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently inaugurated the start of the Yamal LNG project in Russia’s Arctic, a massive $27 billion LNG export terminal developed by private Russian gas company Novatek that was completed on time and on budget.

Full story


The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at www.thegwpf.com.

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