It is well-established that Russian trolls attempted to sow discord during the latest U.S. presidential election. But a recent report from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee has charged that Russian trolls are also actively trying to disrupt U.S. energy markets.
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) released the report which claims Russia has extensively attempted to influence U.S. energy markets in the same way they sought to disrupt the political process — through divisive and inflammatory posts on social media platforms.
In a press release, Chairman Smith explained the motivations behind Russia’s alleged interference:
“This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market. Russia benefits from stirring up controversy about U.S. energy production. U.S. energy exports to European countries are increasing, which means they will have less reason to rely upon Russia for their energy needs. This, in turn, will reduce Russia’s influence on Europe to Russia’s detriment and Europe’s benefit. That’s why Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change. The American people deserve to know if what they see on social media is the creation of a foreign power seeking to undermine our domestic energy policy.”
The report focused on the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian internet troll farm based in St. Petersburg. The report found that between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 4,334 IRA accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. During that time frame, there were over 9,000 Russian posts or tweets regarding U.S. energy policy or a current energy event on these social media platforms.
Information provided by Twitter showed that over 4% of all IRA tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, compared to 8% of IRA tweets that were related to the U.S. presidential election. The IRA posts targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.
It isn’t the first time Russia has been accused of such actions. Another report in January 2017 from the U.S. Director of the Office of National Intelligence stated that RT, a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government, “runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”
The motivation for Russia to sow discord in the energy markets is clear. Russia’s oil and gas revenues are responsible for about 40% of all Russian government revenue. As U.S. energy production grows, it threatens Russia’s dominant energy status over Eastern and Central Europe. That’s why Russian agents have attempted to exploit tension points, such as the Native American social and political issues over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.