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Russians Meddled in Energy Policy, Science Committee GOP Says

Report reveals Russian agents used social media in attempt to influence the U.S. energy market

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Russian social media meddlers tried to influence U.S. energy markets and undercut the country’s emerging domestic natural gas production capabilities, according to a report released Thursday by the Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The report written by GOP committee staff cited data provided by major social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for activity that occurred from 2015 through 2017.

The majority’s findings could also amount to a round-about acknowledgment about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election — an issue that has divided the Science committee, leading Democrats to call for oversight hearings that so far have gone unfulfilled.

Russian-associated accounts posted or tweeted to social media sites more than 9,097 times on issues regarding U.S. energy policy or a current energy event, according to the report. Unclear, however, is how much influence the posts actually had, as the examples cited by the report were not widely shared.

Those energy and environment posts represented about 4 percent of total activity linked to the Russian accounts, compared to the 8 percent the data estimates were related to the election, the report said.

“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,” Science Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Russia benefits from stirring up controversy about U.S. energy production. … 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.”

Among the themes spread throughout the posts, Russians appeared to exploit outrage over the approval and construction of controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. The posts also attempted to raise objections to the environmental side effects of hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, as well as the climate effects of fossil fuels.

The report made the argument that Russia’s motivations were meant to secure its own energy economic advantages in the face of increased production and exports of oil and gas from the United States.

But the posts were not all environmental in nature. Some actually knocked environmentalists and the protests they sponsored in what would appear to align with the broader Russian objective of amplifying areas of conflict, regardless of the side.

“These Russian agents are only interested in creating discord in America while hiding behind an anonymous and misleading social media pseudonym, as demonstrated by the highly divisive, often contradictory posts provided in this report,” the report said.

Democrats on the committee received the report Thursday morning and were still reviewing its contents, a Democratic committee spokeswoman said. While not exactly focused on Russian interference into energy policies, Democrats have used the committee platform to urge more investigation into the meddling of the U.S. election.

“Democrats on the Committee have repeatedly asked the Chairman to look into this issue and have been ignored,” one of the committee’s top Democrats, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, said in a statement, repeating her calls for oversight of election interference. “To ignore known meddling in the very foundation of our democracy while focusing solely on Russia’s influence on the U.S. energy market — a market that is currently booming — seems irresponsible at best.”

In a letter dated Jan. 17, Johnson and Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. of Virginia called for oversight hearings into Russian election interference with a special emphasis on cybersecurity. No hearings have been scheduled.

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