Russian agents are supporting the anti-hydraulic fracturing movement in the United Kingdom, according to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” Rasmussen told reporters at a London-based think tank event.
“That is my interpretation,” he said.
Another NATO official told the UK Guardian that Russia’s control over vast amounts of Europe’s energy supply was problematic.
“We don’t go into the details of discussions among allied leaders, but Russia has been using a mix of hard and soft power in its attempt to recreate a sphere of influence, including through a campaign of disinformation on many issues, including energy,” the official told the Guardian. “In general, the potential for Russia using energy supplies as a means of putting pressure on European nations is a matter of concern. No country should use supply and pricing terms as tools of coercion.”
“As energy supplies and routes are an issue mostly for the EU, we count on the EU to take into account the new security realities in Europe and look at whether there is a need to review diversifying energy sources and expanding energy infrastructure,” the NATO official continued.
“Clearly, it is in the interest of all Nato allies to be able to have adequate energy supplies,” the official said. “This is critical to our economies, our security and our prosperity. We share a concern by some allies that Russia could try to obstruct possible projects on shale gas exploration in Europe in order to maintain Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.”
Russia’s aggression in Ukraine have led many European nations to rethink their green energy strategy and consider hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to lessen their reliance on natural gas supplies flowing from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
About half the gas flowing from Russia into Europe passes through Ukraine, meaning Europeans could do little to halt Putin’s takeover of Crimea for fears their gas supplies could be cut off.
The European Union and other member nations are considering increasing natural gas imports from the United States, where fracking has unleashed a massive energy boom, as well as drilling into their own shale formations to extract oil and gas.
While the rest of Europe drags their feet on fracking, the UK has already allowed companies to come in and start drilling. Though it’s drilling operations have gotten off to a slow start in the face of heavy opposition from green groups who say fracking will contaminate water supplies and harm air quality.
Rasmussen says that Russia is supporting green groups to stymie energy development and keep the UK and other countries dependent on Russian oil and gas. The secretary-general, however, did not say what form the support from Moscow comes in or if green groups were aware they were dealing with Russian agents.
“It also, in my opinion, involves the better functioning of the European energy market so that one single supplier is not able to blackmail one single nation,” Rasmussen said.
The UK sits on vast shale reserves which it wants to drill into to ease domestic gas prices and boost their energy supplies. British households face high gas and electricity prices, forcing thousands to go without heat during the winter months. Parliament hopes fracking will ease gas prices and some of the economic pressures facing UK families.
Environmentalists, however, say it’s outrageous to accuse them of working with Putin.
“The idea we’re puppets of Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at NATO HQ,” a Greenpeace spokesman told the UK Daily Mail. “Mr Rasmussen should spend less time dreaming up conspiracy theories and more time on the facts.”
Greenpeace has been a thorn in the side of Russia’s energy agenda, launching operations to disrupt Arctic drilling operations. Activists were even arrested and held by Russia last year and were nearly charged with piracy, but the charges were eventually dropped.
“It shows how ludicrously out of touch these people are. He clearly doesn’t know the type of person that has been turning up to demonstrate,” Tony Cottee with the green group Rising Tide told the UK Independent.
But while green groups have been active against Russia, Putin and his oligarchs have publicly voiced concerns about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Putin recently said at one global economic conference that “black stuff comes out of the tap” when there’s fracking.
Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom has said fracking poses “significant environmental risks” to water supplies.
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