Close this search box.

Matt Ridley: How lying Putin spent millions spreading fake news about fracking

Matt Ridley: How lying Putin spent millions spreading fake news about fracking
The Sun, 15 March 2022

Not content with letting the radical Greens do this work for him, Mr Putin decided to give them a helping hand. 

WHEN Lorraine Allanson spoke up in favour of drilling for shale gas in her part of North Yorkshire, activists cut off her internet, called her a “whore” and linked her to a fake crime number.

“Shouting, abuse, public defecation, intimidation, hijacking lorries to stop deliveries, blocking the village street, this was the locals’ daily experience,” she wrote in her book My Story.

The wave of noisy protests against shale gas in Lancashire and Yorkshire in recent years looked like a grassroots movement. It was anything but.

It was peopled by a middle class rent-a-crowd, ramped up by misleading scare stories from Friends of the Earth, amplified by the BBC and The Guardian, funded by wealthy hedge-fund billionaires and welcomed by incumbent energy firms worried by the prospect of new competition for renewables, nuclear or offshore gas.

All this suited Vladimir Putin’s regime, because banning shale kept the gas underground and left us more dependent on Russia for our energy supplies.

Unlike Germany, the UK gets most of its gas from Norway and Qatar, but an increasing amount comes directly from Russia. And the refusal of Europe to frack helped drive up the gas price everywhere.

Not content with letting the radical Greens do this work for him, Mr Putin decided to give them a helping hand.

Alarmed by the fall in the gas price that America’s shale revolution promised, he told a global economic conference in 2013 that “black stuff comes out of the tap” when you frack near people’s homes, an absurd claim that not even Friends of the Earth would dare make.

Russian support for anti-fracking campaigns over the past decade took the form of public comments from the Kremlin’s cronies, a blizzard of scare stories on the Russia Today TV channel, some overt political lobbying by the country’s Gazprom and Russian money almost certainly finding its way into the coffers of environmental pressure groups.

In 2011 Gazprom, a firm with a mixed environmental record, claimed wrongly: “The production of shale gas is associated with significant environmental risks, in particular the hazard of surface and underground water contamination with chemicals.”

Alexander Medvedev, the general director of Gazprom Export, said fracking would never work in Europe. But just in case it did, he added in a speech in Brussels that the Russian state was “ready to wage its war on shale”.

In just six months Russia Today ran scores of anti-shale stories, with headlines like:

“Wrecking the Earth: Fracking has grave radiation risks few talk about”, “Fracking fluid linked to fish die-off”, “US fracking wells annually produce 280bn gallons of toxic waste water destroying environment”, “We say no to shale gas”, “Fracking nightmare”, “Fracking chemicals disrupt human hormone functions, study claims”, “Living near fracking sites increases infant birth defects”, “Hundreds gather for anti-fracking march in Manchester”.

One ludicrous story went even further, claiming frackers were “the moral equivalent of paedophiles”.

Russian social media amplified every alarm, fanning the flames of concern.

Behind the scenes Russian interests lobbied hard for bans on shale gas. Bulgaria rushed through a ban in 2012 under pressure from the socialist party and Bulgaria’s gas company, Overgas, which gets almost all its gas from Gazprom.

The ban followed some small protests featuring several leading members of the Soviet-era secret police.

In Germany, Gazprom Germania lobbied the Bundestag and the key ministries for a ban on shale gas, as did German energy companies with large Russian investors.

Here, Lord Truscott, married to a Russian colonel’s daughter, made several interventions in the House of Lords to criticise shale gas as vice chair of the short-lived All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shale Gas Regulation and Planning — an anti-shale lobby front.

In America, a congressional inquiry concluded that two environmental foundations in San Francisco, the Sea Change Foundation and Energy Foundation, were “pass-through” conduits to anti-fracking campaigns channelling huge donations made in jurisdictions that allowed anonymity such as Bermuda.

Covert payments

There they appeared to share connections with Russian investors.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington DC, published a report that concluded: “Russian-supported consultancies in Europe may be helping some of the environmental groups opposed to hydraulic fracturing”.

In 2014, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of Nato and former Prime Minister of Denmark, told the Chatham House think tank: “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.”

National Review, a US magazine, concluded in 2015: “Russia has ramped up covert payments to environmental groups in the West.

“By supporting well-intentioned environmentalists with hard cash (often without their knowledge), Russian intelligence gains Western mouthpieces to petition Western audiences in its favour.”

The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Belgium published a report in 2016 which concluded that “the Russian government has therefore invested €82million in NGOs whose job is to persuade EU governments to stop shale gas exploration”.

Much of the support for the anti-fracking movement was still homegrown. But it did Putin’s dirty work for him.