Energy

House Report Details Russian Meddling In US Energy Markets

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Russian agents used social media platforms to influence U.S. energy policies and incite environmental activists to protest pipelines projects, according to a congressional report.

The report by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology presents the findings of their months-long investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. energy markets. Russian agents used social media to stoke opposition to major pipeline projects and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The committee found accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm, had published 9,097 posts across social media platforms from 2015 to 2017 on U.S. energy policies and projects.

“Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy,” reads the report. “The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.”

More than 4 percent of IRA-linked accounts’ posts on Twitter were energy related. For perspective, 8 percent of IRA-linked tweets were linked to the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller recently indicted IRA as part of his investigation into Russian election meddling.

The committee is not the first to point out Russia’s targeting of U.S. energy markets. Intelligence officials confirmed in a declassified report on election meddling that the state-owned media outlet Russia Today (RT) ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”

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Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russian oligarchs were propping up “phony environmental groups” opposed to pipelines and fracking.

The committee specifically highlights Russian ads inciting opposition to pipelines, including the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Native American and eco-activists opposed the project, engaging in violent clashes with police in their months-long stand.

“The posts emphasized and exacerbated the alleged violent nature of the DAPL protests,” the committee found, adding, “several Russian posts focused on the counter-narrative and sought to exploit anti-activist sentiment by propagating content supportive of pipeline construction efforts, illustrating once again the Kremlin’s indiscriminate efforts to cause discord and disruption.”

Russians also “targeted several other pipelines, including Sabal Trail, Keystone XL, Colonial, Bayou Bridge, and Enbridge Line 5.” The committee also said Russian agents encouraged activists to “take action against pipeline efforts by promoting links and references to online petitions.”

“Russia benefits from stirring up controversy about U.S. energy production. U.S. energy exports to European countries are increasing, which means they will have less reason to rely upon Russia for their energy needs,” said Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the committee’s chairman.

“This, in turn, will reduce Russia’s influence on Europe to Russia’s detriment and Europe’s benefit,” Smith said in a statement. “That’s why Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change.”

Smith began his investigation in 2017 when he asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to investigate whether or not Russians were using an offshore Bermuda-based law firm to funnel money to U.S. environmental groups. Smith then asked the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google for information on Russian activities.

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