House panel: Russia aimed to disrupt US energy markets using social media

House panel: Russia aimed to disrupt US energy markets using social media
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Russia used several American social media accounts in an attempt to disrupt U.S. energy markets, according to a House committee report released Thursday.

The report from the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology concluded that Russia exploited social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in an effort to influence the United States' domestic energy policies, sometimes taking conservative positions to stir up tensions.

Looking at information provided to them by U.S. social media companies, the committee found that between 2015 and 2017 there were about 9,097 Russian posts or tweets about U.S. energy policy and events on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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During the same time period, the report found an estimated 4,334 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a company established by the Russian government that engages in online influence operations for the Russian government and businesses.

The IRA posts and tweets specifically targeted pipelines, fossil fuels and climate change, the report found.

The committee surmised that the disinformation campaign on social media is connected to Russian fears that a strong U.S. energy economy could negatively impact Russia's oil and natural gas economy. 

Eastern and central European countries currently get about 75 percent of their natural gas from Russia, with southeastern European countries receiving nearly all of their natural gas from Moscow. However, those numbers are slowly changing. For example, Poland recently signed a five-year deal with the U.S. to import liquefied natural gas to decrease dependency on Russian energy supplies, according to the report.

“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," the committee's chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said in a statement.

"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 U.S. embrace of fracking technology is another issue that has Russia on edge, the report found. 

"Although many factors have contributed to increased domestic production capacity, record-breaking production in the United States is primarily 'attributable to increased production of natural gas and crude oil enabled by the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques,'" the report read.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE embraced the technique early last year, repealing the Obama-era fracking rule and approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which brings oil from tar sands released through fracking.

Russia is best known for the disinformation campaign it waged during the 2016 presidential election, but the report found that the number of tweets about energy from IRA-linked accounts were significant. About 4 percent of IRA tweets and posts were about energy and environment issues. In comparison, 8 percent of the tweets were about the election.

On climate change, the Russian posts took on a more conservative slant, adopting talking points that referred to global warming as a "liberal hoax," the report found.

The report classified the posts as an "effort to generate further domestic controversy surrounding the issue of climate change."

"As the threat of American energy continues to grow, so does the Kremlin’s incentive to influence energy operations in Europe and the United States," the report concluded. "Moreover, as they have demonstrated, the Kremlin will use any and all tools at their disposal to preserve Russia’s dominant energy status and to maintain its stranglehold over Eastern and Central Europe."