News that Vladimir Putin provides the funding of anti-fracking campaigns will have come as a big surprise to the thousands of volunteers who donate and campaign to prevent what is widely seen as an environmentally and economically destructive industry.
In fact, the story says more about the neo-McCarthyism in the USA than anything serious about the geopolitics of the oil and gas industries. Indeed, the story comes with the same absence of evidence and from the same source as the equally mendacious claim that Russia “hacked” the presidential election last November – which gave the entirely false impression that agents of the Russian state had somehow tampered with the electronic voting machines used in US elections. In fact, the (unevidenced) claim was merely that a group possibly funded by Russia may have been behind the phishing e-mail that John Podesta clicked with all the naivety of a dotty aunt who really believes that she has won a share of the Nigerian lottery.
According to Irina Slav from U.S.-based Divergente LLC, the claim about anti-fracking groups boils down to RT – the Russian equivalent of the BBC – giving air time to critics of the fracking industry:
“Anti-fracking rhetoric was identified in the report as a major element of RT’s agenda and interpreted by the report’s authors as reflecting Russia’s concern about the growing influence of shale oil and gas on international markets and ‘the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability’”
At face value this seems obvious enough – although there is a massive difference between giving airtime to anti-fracking sentiments and actually funding protest groups. But step back and look more closely at the Russian and US gas industries, and according to Slav there are five good reasons for believing that the claims of Russian interference are misguided:
- The Russian gas industry is not in direct competition with US shale gas that is largely aimed at the US domestic market
- Both the Russian oil and gas industries have proved far more resilient than the US shale companies in the face of relatively low prices – Venuzuela ans Saudi Arabia have much greater reason to fear US fracking
- US shale gas (which needs pipelines and/or liquefaction plants to export) is highly unlikely to be competitive against Gazprom’s existing Eurasian pipeline network
- Trump’s stated aim of making the US energy independent leaves international markets more open to Russian oil and gas exports
- While RT (and other news outlets) have regularly given coverage to anti-fracking groups, this is hardly evidence that Russia is responsible for their existence. As Slav reminds us:
“The rise of anti-fracking sentiments hardly has anything to do with Russian propaganda, no matter how passionately the latter supports it. Anti-fracking sentiment has a lot to do with growing environmental concerns in the U.S. that seek to reduce all fossil fuel extraction, as well as with the huge increase in seismic activity in some parts of the U.S., such as Oklahoma, after the start of the shale revolution.”
Like the McCarthyism of the 1950s, the real victim of these spurious Russian-influence claims is democracy and civil society itself, as entirely reasonable peaceful protesters find their activities threatened by growing mass paranoia; allowing corporations to dismiss their critics as Russian stooges.