Few things scare Vladimir Putin, the Russian head of state who routinely poses with his shirt off, flies airplanes to douse the fires threatening the lives of millions of Russians, shoots Siberian tigers with tranquilizer guns, and still finds time to steal Super Bowl rings. However, there is one thing the leader of Russia, an 8th degree black belt, actually fears: hydraulic fracturing. This technology, also known as “fracking,” has revolutionized the way oil and natural gas are produced in the United States, which is likely why Putin has gone to great lengths to discredit this new technology and attempted to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the world.
Putin’s fear of fracking, from a purely logical standpoint, makes perfect sense. Russia is a petro-state, a nation dependent on the sale of oil and natural gas to keep its government, and economy, afloat.
According to the Energy Information Administration, 50 percent of Russia’s federal budget revenue in 2013 came from mineral extraction taxes and export customs duties on oil and natural gas, and the prospect of low oil and natural gas prices for the foreseeable future threatens to push the Russian economy into a recession.
Fracking has transformed the United States into the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world, nearly doubling U.S. crude production since 2008. Other nations, such as Poland, have sought to replicate this success, and if fracking were to spread to European nations such as Bulgaria, France, Germany, and Ukraine, Russia would see its largest markets for natural gas exports disappear.
This reality is surely not lost upon the Kremlin, and it may be a key reason why RT, formerly known as Russia Today, Russia’s state-funded international television news network, which Time magazine describesas the Kremlin’s most sophisticated propaganda machine,has been a consistent echo chamber for anti-fracking sentiments. As noted by the Spectator (UK), “RT is an enthusiastic reporter of almost any protest against fracking anywhere, reflecting the interest of the Russian state and Gazprom in discouraging competition and keeping energy prices high.”
Another feature of RT’s coverage of the hydraulic fracturing debate has been to sensationalize the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in the United States. The network is far less critical of the fracking operations in Siberia; in fact, RT hailed fracking in the region as a “Shale Revolution,” and “an important element of our growth strategy.”
Few people will likely be shocked by this double standard, especially since RT has a direct line to the Kremlin. While RTis an obvious anti-fracking mouthpiece for Russian oil and gas interests, there is speculation Russia may be influencing the debate on fracking in less direct ways, as well.
The journal Foreign Policy reports Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then-Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stated, “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engage actively with so-called non-government organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
Additionally, the magazine reports, “Researchers working on the ground in Central and Eastern Europe say there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, if no smoking guns, of Russian financial support for some environmental groups that have recently mobilized opposition to shale gas development.”
Putin may be a showoff, but he’s no dummy. He realizes most of his geopolitical power comes from his almost-exclusive ability to export energy to European markets. With American oil flooding the market and the prospect of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the United States growing ever-nearer, the Kremlin’s is actively working to protect its self-interest and prevent fracking from spreading to other nations that depend on Russian resources.
But will the Obama administration and U.S. press investigate those efforts and report on them? That’s one thing Putin probably need not fear.