Does Gazprom Fund European Anti-Fracking Activists?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/07/2014 01:30:00 AM
Paid for by Gazprom?
As far as conspiracy theories involving Russia go, this one takes the cake. Unlike the United States which has experienced a renaissance in energy production through the use of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" in common parlance, Europe has not warmed to the technology. Many of the objections come from environmentalists who express concern over water usage, water pollution, earthquakes and so on. A few weeks ago, however, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Russia was working to sabotage European energy independence from its oil and gas by undermining support for fracking. The alleged preferred means? Covert Russian funding for environmental groups:
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and former premier of Denmark, told the Chatham House thinktank in London on Thursday that Vladimir Putin’s government was behind attempts to discredit fracking, according to reports.

Rasmussen said: “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.” He declined to give details of those operations, saying: “That is my interpretation.”
For obvious reasons, NATO is at pains to point out that Rasmussen is expressing an opinion and not the position of the organization. That said, he explicitly identifies unusual Russian "concern" about the hazards of shale gas:
I would put it to you, though, that the real question, or the real power and the real leverage Russia has is its position as a key gas supplier to Europe. And indeed I would have to respectfully put it to you that a far better use of resources by Europe, and particularly the European Union, would be to invest heavily in shale gas production.

And indeed I would suggest to you that it would be far easier to sell that notion, especially, let's face it, the shale revolution is a technology and a triumph of innovation. To spend money on that would be… produce a far higher return than defence expenditure. Just a final footnote. Mr. Putin on one occasion actually lectured Germany about the environmental hazards of shale. So he’s well aware of the strategic value of the shale revolution.
What is especially odd is how Putin becomes an environmentalist all of a sudden when Europe has the technology within its grasp to wean itself off Russian energy. In the context of climate change, for instance, it couldn't care less about the environment. Let's just say it is self-interested in raising environmental concerns for this particular issue that can hurt its core economic interests. For them, it's every which way but lose. Meanwhile, the "Russian collaborator" taunt is being leveled against all sorts of European environmental protesters:
[Romanian protester] Munteanu says she has been accused of taking bribes from Russian companies to participate in the demonstrations. She says that she suspects the local authorities, interested in dividends from the shale gas drilling, were spreading such rumours. "They are welcome to come to my home and check that I haven't been taking money," she says.

Munteanu and her neighbours are not the only anti-fracking protesters accused of taking money from Russia to campaign against shale gas. Anti-fracking protests across Europe have come under fire in local and international media. Most recently, the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted as saying that Russia has engaged with environmental organisations working against shale gas in its efforts to keep Europe dependent on its gas exports. 
Meanwhile, Russians are being fingered behind strident anti-fracking rhetoric:
At the same time, Russia and its gas giant Gazprom have also established a strong lobby to protect their interests in Europe, including employing former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Russia has pushed for major projects to expand delivery of natural gas to Europe, including Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines. The construction of the latter was recently shelved in Bulgaria after pressure from the EU.

According to Krassen Stanchev, a Bulgarian economist and head of the Institute for Market Economics, the influence of Russia and Gazprom in Bulgaria surfaced during parliamentary debates over a bill to ban shale gas exploration, which was passed in 2012. "The whole procedure and arguments are obvious evidence of corruption in the Parliament, [under the form of] serving the interests of Gazprom by all parliamentary factions," he said. 
Interesting stuff. The timing of the emergence of environmental movements--i.e., when Russia started to see the commercial threat--may be suspect:
But one thing has for years puzzled energy experts: Well-organized and well-funded environmental opposition to fracking in Europe sprang up suddenly in countries such as Bulgaria and Ukraine, which had shown little prior concern for the environment but which are heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies. Similar movements have also targeted Europe's plans to build pipelines that would offer an alternative to reliance on Moscow.

"It's very concrete; it relates to both opposition to shale and also trying to block any alternative pipelines with environmental challenges," said Brenda Shaffer, an energy expert at Georgetown University. "There is a lot of evidence here; countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine being at the vanguard of the environmental movement is enough for it to be conspicuous," she said.
My opinion is that regardless of mooted Russian meddling, [real] environmental opposition is strong enough in core EU states to dissuade fracking from becoming a significant source of energy for Europe in the near future.