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Russia might be running anti-fracking ads too, congressman says

Republican Rep. Lamar Smith is asking Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet to turn over Russian ads that relate to anti-fracking and anti-fossil fuel campaigns.

by Alex Lubben
Sep 27 2017, 12:30pm

Congress has been investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election for months. But now, one member wants to see how the Kremlin has affected energy markets, too.

Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, the climate change–denying head of the House’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee, is asking Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to turn over Russian ads that relate to anti-fracking and anti-fossil fuel campaigns.

“In light of Facebook’s disclosure of over $100,000 in social media advertising associated with Russian accounts focused on the disruption and influence of U.S. politics through social media,” Smith wrote in a letter he sent on Wednesday to the CEOs of the three companies, “it is likely that Russia undertook a similar effort using social media to influence the U.S. energy market.”

“The American people have a right to know whether the information they are hearing, seeing, and reading is being presented on behalf of a foreign government,” Smith continued

As odd as Smith’s request may seem, there is some evidence that Russia has been spreading anti-fracking propaganda. For example, Russian state-owned media organization RT published an article, with no byline, headlined, “Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest hideout under threat from frackers. As it turns out, the companies the anonymous reporter claimed were involved were, in fact, not.

“[I]t is likely that Russia undertook a similar effort using social media to influence the U.S. energy market.”

In his letter, Smith also cites: the U.S. intelligence report on Russian interference in the election — which mentioned critical coverage of fracking from RT — a New York Times report about Russia likely funding Romanian protests around a new Chevron fracking operation in that country; and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), who said he had heard of Russia funding anti-fracking organizations.

As for Russia’s motives, it’s not in the country’s best interest for the U.S. to be energy independent. Messing with U.S. production of natural gas could raise global energy prices — and about 60 percent of Russia’s total exports are of oil and gas products, according to the Observatory for Economic Complexity at MIT.

But it’s also probably not in Smith’s best interest for fracking to be criticized in the media or on social media platforms. The Republican Congressman has accepted some $36,000 in donations this year from contributors and PACs connected to the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.