Russian meddling another worry for Canadian energy exports
An investigation by United States lawmakers that links Russian-sponsored agents to manipulation of U.S. energy markets — including activism against pipelines such as TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline — is a wake-up call to Canadian governments that foreign interests have a big hand in campaigns to block Canadian oil and gas exports.
By designing energy and environmental policy to appease that inflated activism — for example, regulatory reforms that are expected to further discourage energy investment in Canada — Canadian governments are accommodating competitors prepared to do whatever it takes to protect and grow their global oil and gas market share, not Canada’s best interest.
According to the report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, made public Thursday, Russian agents have been exploiting U.S. social media platforms to influence opinions about U.S. energy and environmental policy.
“Americans have a right to know that much of what they view online is being disseminated by foreign agents in an effort to disrupt U.S. energy policies,” the report says.
Documents provided to the investigation by social media companies Twitter, Facebook and Instagram reveal that the agents used accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company based in St. Petersburg established by the Russian government to manipulate social and traditional media to advance Russian propaganda. The same agency also orchestrated Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
But Russia’s preoccupation with U.S. energy growth seems over the top: According to Twitter, more than four per cent of all IRA tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, compared with eight per cent of IRA tweets related to the U.S. election. Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 4,334 IRA accounts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Many of the Russian-linked accounts targeted “highly visible tension points” in America, including protests against pipelines and over climate change, says the report.
Among the Russian targets, two pipelines are important to Canada: Keystone XL to export Alberta oil to the U.S. Gulf, and Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5, part of the Lakehead system that moves Western Canadian oil to Eastern Canada through Great Lakes states.
The Russians also stirred opposition against the Dakota Access, Sabal Trail, Colonial and Bayou Bridge pipelines.
Typical posts incited fear of oil spills, highlighted the “brutalization” of Native Americans, and slammed the oilsands. One tweet said: “The Keystone Pipeline would transport some of the dirtiest fuel on this planet.” Another: “Keystone pipeline springs leak in South Dakota.”
Several posts advocated the complete abandonment of specific fuel sources, such as fossil fuels, by touting exaggerated claims about alternative energy sources.
Russia’s motivation: The country doesn’t want the U.S. to be a big energy exporter because that threatens its own revenue and geopolitical influence, for example over countries such as those in Eastern Europe that are dependent on its energy.
“The surge of American energy into the global marketplace heightens the Kremlin’s desire to eliminate or mitigate the American energy threat and to do so by influencing social media users, American voters, and public officials,” the report says.
Russian manipulation of U.S. energy hasn’t stopped at deception on social media.
Last fall, the same probe uncovered Russia-sponsored agents funded U.S. environmental organizations. Among the recipients were the Tides Foundation, which funds campaigns in British Columbia against oilsands pipelines and liquefied natural gas, as well as such KXL opponents as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Bold Nebraska.
“The Kremlin is attempting to make … ‘useful idiots’ of unwitting environmental groups and activists in furtherance of its energy influence operations,” the report says.
“Although this is not a new tactic in the Kremlin’s playbook, it has been adapted to account for modern technological advancements like the Internet and social media. Throughout history, the Kremlin has engaged and manipulated unwitting individuals to disseminate propaganda in furtherance of its global agenda. By leveraging the sincerely held views and beliefs of unwitting agents, the Kremlin is able to exploit polarized issues in American democracy to influence action in furtherance of its agenda.”
Despite the evidence emerging from the U.S. investigation, and striking similarities between anti-oil and -gas campaigns in the U.S. and those in Canada, no such official investigation is under way in Canada.
Indeed, Canada has an even bigger problem with foreign meddling: U.S. money is also pouring into environmental organizations to keep Canadian oil and gas in the ground.
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