(Bloomberg)– The same Russian operatives accused of manipulating the 2016 U.S. presidential election used inflammatory social media posts to disrupt U.S. energy policy, including inciting environmentalists to protest against pipeline projects, House Republicans said in a report released Thursday.
The report, released by the House Science Committee, said it found evidence Russian-sponsored agents used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to suppress the research and development of fossil fuels and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas and fracking.
“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,” Texas Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said in a statement. “Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change.”
Separately, a study released by Iowa State University said English-language Russian media coverage of agricultural issues “fits the profile” of an effort to amplify controversy regarding genetically modified food.
Russia is one of the world’s biggest producers of wheat, oil and natural gas.
The House study on energy-policy manipulation cited a May 2017 Facebook post that said “Dakota Access Pipeline Has Already Leaked 84 Gallons of Oil — like if you want justice.” It received nearly 1,800 likes. Other social media posts and tweets targeted the Keystone XL pipeline, subsidies for oil companies and offered links to content aimed at stopping pipeline projects by Enbridge Inc. and other companies, according to the report.
In other cases, the posts favored the oil industry, such as one on Instagram that pictured a sprawling strip mine “where lithium is extracted for electric car batteries” above a picture of a tidy-looking oil well. “Tell me more about how your electric car is better for the environment,” it said.
Groups such as the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with links to the Russian government, used propaganda to target Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, and other projects, according to the report.
Russian-sponsored agents also funneled money to U.S. environmental groups in an attempt to portray energy companies in a negative way and disrupt domestic energy markets, the report said.
The St. Petersburg, Russia-based research agency was accused in a series of indictments last month of using social media, including by impersonating Americans, to shape U.S. opinions about the 2016 election.
Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 4,334 Internet Research Agency accounts across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the report said. More than four percent of all of the agency’s tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, the report said, citing information provided by Twitter.
“The Kremlin has a motive to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy, since American energy represents a direct threat to Russian energy interests,” the report said.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that sought to block the $3.8 billion project, disputed the allegation that Russians played a role in drawing thousands of protesters to the site.
“The placement of the Dakota access pipeline at the doorstep of the Standing Rock Reservation triggered a global movement to defend indigenous rights and protest a history of government dispossession of Native Americans,” Hasselman said in an email. “And the whole world saw that the only way to build the pipeline was through State-sponsored, militarized violence. Russia had nothing to do with any of it.”
Representative Bernice Johnson, the committee’s top Democrat, said her party didn’t participate in the report and members were still reviewing it. But, she added, Republicans on the committee have taken little interest in Russia’s role in influencing the U.S. election and her requests to have the committee look into the issue have been ignored.
“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,” Johnson said in an emailed statement.
Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer, didn’t immediately respond to request for comment, and TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said comment would be premature since the company hadn’t had chance to review the report.
The Iowa State University study looked at efforts to influence the debate over genetically modified food.
Articles discussing biotech seeds sold by Monsanto Co., Syngenta AG and others published in RT and Sputnik, two state-funded Russian news outlets, were almost uniformly negative compared to a spectrum of U.S. sources ranging from Huffington Post to Breitbart News, according to an article published on SocArXiv, an open-source academic research site, on Feb. 27.
Russia, which has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s leading exporter of wheat, has banned production and imports of genetically modified crops. It’s rebranding its agriculture as “ecologically clean” as a contrast with countries such as the U.S. and Brazil, which allow modern gene-modification technology in plant production, particularly for corn and soybeans. GMO skepticism is also prevalent in Europe, creating a potential “wedge issue” between the U.S. and its allies., according to the study.
The Russian outlets also covered GMOs with much greater frequency than U.S.-based media and more often used the term as “clickbait,” a way to draw readers toward articles that had little to do with the topic, according to the study.
A report released in January by the Director of National Intelligence alleged that RT ran anti-fracking programming, probably aimed at thwarting the rise of U.S. oil and natural gas production from the drilling technique.