Russian Money Possibly Behind Anti-Fracking Protests
The apparent shutdown of a Chevron fracking facility in Romania may be the results of efforts by Russia to stop natural gas production in Eastern Europe. Not long after opening the hydraulic fracturing facility in Pungesti, Romania, protesters began to stage confrontations that became violent at times.
“I was really shocked,” recalled the Mayor Vlasa Mircia in an article in the New York Times. “We never had protesters here and suddenly they were everywhere.”
The mayor said openly that Chevron had been run out of town. This occurred after violent clashes broke out between police and protesters. The mayor himself was run out of town by the protesters who called him a corporate sellout.
Romanian officials, including the country’s prime minister pointed the blame, not at Chevron, but at a Russian company, Gazprom. Gazprom is Russian state-controlled energy giant according to the Times. The company and Russia have clear interests in preventing countries who are currently dependent on supplies of Russian natural gas from developing their own energy resources. The natural gas shipments to these countries serve both as a financial resource to the country, but also help it leverage its foreign policy efforts for the Kremlin.
Similar incidents took place in Lithuania and officials there also pointed the finger of blame in the direction of Gazprom. But Gazprom has denied any involvement that it bankrolled the protests. “Circumstantial evidence, plus large dollops of Cold War-style suspicion, have added to mounting alarm over covert Russian meddling to block threats to its energy stranglehold on Europe.”
In March, 2013, Breitbart Texas reported on a bill introduced by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz aimed at helping European allies break the chains of bondage Russian natural gas represents to these countries. “The energy revolution that is already underway can produce the jobs and opportunities that our country needs to grow,” Sen. Cruz said in a statement sent to Breitbart Texas. A booming new energy economy can also provide critical resources to our allies so they are no longer energy dependent on petro-tyrants, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin. This is a win-win.”
Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who sponsored the bill in the U.S. House, said, “Despite the Obama Administration’s hostility to fossil fuels, the U.S. is the world’s largest natural gas producer and third largest -- and fastest growing -- crude oil producer. The United States is poised to develop and export energy to the advantage of the American economy and permanently reduce Russia’s control over European energy markets.”
Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave voice to the alarm in June about Russia’s intervention during a speech to the Chatham House think-tank in London according to The Guardian’s online news. “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 organizations -- environmental organizations working against shale gas -- to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” Rasmussen stated. When pressed for details, he said, “That is my interpretation.”
Protest groups in Romania deny receiving any funding from Russian interests. One group played the accusations off as political hype. “It is very easy: If you can put Russia in the equation you win your argument,” said George Epurescu, president of “Romania Without Them”. His group was initially founded to mobilize opposition to public corruption. It later shifted its focus to fight against fracking after it “found out about the shale gas problem” from Bulgarian activists according to the Times article.
Alexander Medvedev, the head of Gazprom’s export group said Europeans will never be able to replicate the success found in American fracking because of Europe’s geology and dense population. So far, he appears to be correct as several European fracking tests have fallen flat. That said, Gazprom itself is venturing into European fracking through its Serbian subsidiary, Nis. They have begun prospecting in western Romania near the Serbian border. Protesters have taken no action against Gazprom’s efforts.
Pointing to seemingly odd correlations of protest groups that are normally unrelated in their activities, Anca-Maria Cernea who leads a conservative political group in Bucharest, noted the protesters, like radical-socialists with ties to heavily Russian influenced security apparatus in Moldova and a group of deeply Orthodox priests have been working together to protest fracking. She also observed Russia’s state-run television news channel provided blanket coverage of the protests and issued warnings that “the villagers, along with their crops and animals would perish from poisoned water.”
The Chevron site in Pungesti is now empty with the exception of security guards and dismantling work crews. While Chevron has not stated is has given up on the facility, the Times quotes Mayor Mircia as saying, “They are going home.”