A Real Russian Scandal: The Anti-Fracking Crusade

While Democrats chase down the ghosts of collusion between Russians and operatives in the Trump presidential campaign, the real scandal involving Russia is their attempted influence on energy policy in Europe and the United States.  Their stated disdain for shale fracking is not based on some newfound concern for the environment, but economics pure and simple.

Nothing illustrates their influence like a story out of Romania where a small town, in an effort to bolster their economy, had allowed exploratory drilling after contracting with Chevron.  Almost immediately, activists from across that country descended on the town and literally drove the mayor out.  Violent clashes ensued between police and protesters.  It was billed as a David versus Goliath scenario with impoverished farmers rising up to battle the Goliath- America’s Chevron.  However, the Romanian government determined that the true Goliath in this battle was Gazprom- the Russian energy conglomerate controlled by the Kremlin.

The anti-fracking protests began in earnest in 2012 in Eastern Europe- the area most dependent on Russian energy exports.  In that year, in the face of massive protests by many groups who had shown no interest in environmental concerns, Bulgaria decided to address the situation by banning the use of fracking.  Bulgaria is a member country of the EU, but perhaps the one that leans most towards Russia.  Since, Chevron has had to cancel contracts in Lithuania in response to protests.

Russia has in the past shown a disdain for environmental protesters and has jailed many such protesters along the way.  In 2016, however, Putin declared fracking “a huge environmental problem.”  Russian television runs documentaries stating that water has been contaminated and a black slime now runs from the taps where fracking occurs.

Meanwhile, on the eastern border of Romania near Serbia, Nis- the Siberian subsidiary of Gazprom- is exploring the extraction of gas from shale with nary a complaint or protest.  Protest leaders explain away the difference: Nis is involved in geological surveys while Chevron was doing exploratory drilling.  One waits and sees what the protesters will do when Nis begins actual drilling.

The motivation for throwing their towel in with environmentalists is obvious.  Russia is the world’s second largest producer of natural gas after the US.  The United States achieved that top status as a result of the fracking revolution.  About 63% of Russian exports are energy-related- mainly natural gas.  By preventing other countries from exploiting their own domestic reserves, it drives up the price which benefits the Russian government.

Most of the money to fund these protests traces back to shadowy figures within Putin’s inner circle of oligarchs.  Largely working through offshore accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, one such company- Klein, Ltd.-has funneled more than $23 million to a California-based environmental group called Sea Change.  Klein is accountable for about 40% of that group’s source of funds.  In 2010 and 2011, Sea Change distributed more than $100 million in grants to a who’s who of environmental groups: The Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Food and Water Watch and Center for American Progress.  All of these groups should be familiar to readers as Leftist environmental groups who push climate change legislation and are active in the anti-fracking campaigns throughout the United States.

As a result, the Sierra Club announced the launch of their “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign in 2013 designed to thwart the expansion of natural gas extraction through fracking.  They received $8.5 million from Sea Change for this effort.  The non-profit watchdog group- Inside Philanthropy- awarded Sea Change their lowest ranking for their lack of transparency regarding source of funding.

Meanwhile, another wealthy donor to environmental causes- Nathaniel Simons and his wife- also donate to Sea Change, but use the very same hedge fund in Bermuda- Wakefield Quin- that Klein, Ltd. uses.  In other areas, NATO leaders have accused Russia of funding and instigating Greenpeace protests against fracking all while Russia has jailed 30 Greenpeace protesters at a Gazprom oil rig.

As part of the ongoing investigation of Russian influence on the US 2016 election, evidence has surfaced that RT- Russia’s top propaganda arm in the United States- has run programs in the US critical of fracking for years.  Even Hillary Clinton, in documents revealed through WikiLeaks, noted in a symposium in Edmonton in 2014 that Russia was trying to influence US policy regarding the construction of pipelines and fracking.  The Romanians estimate that Russia has funneled about $100 million towards environmental groups in Europe that oppose fracking.

The offshore company known as Wakefield Quin is key to any link between the environmentalists and Russia.  Their involvement includes at least two investigations of money laundering by Russia oligarchs.  The source of funding for Wakefield Quin seems to come from three primary sources- Marcuard Spectrum, the Firebird New Russia Fund, and Troika Dialogue, Ltd.  All three involve energy investors based in Moscow.

Some of this may be old news to many readers here.  But, one has to wonder where these environmental groups get their money to stage protests and engage in other propaganda to thwart the domestic energy industry.  Although not all the funding can be traced to Russia, a goodly sum can.  As Senator Marco Rubio has noted, if Russia can allegedly engage in activities that seek to undermine the electoral process, they can do likewise with important domestic policy debates.

If Trump was/is a stooge of the Russian government- and there is scant evidence to prove that claim,- then the environmental Left in the West and the United States are likewise stooges of the Russian government for which there is greater proof for that claim.  Perhaps Congress should open an investigation into the source of funding for Leftist environmental groups.  After all, aren’t Democrats all for transparency?