A second member of the Texas Railroad Commission has accused US fracking opponents of being financed by Russian gas interests. That makes two out of three. Your immediate reaction may be: "Oh yeah, Where's my check?" But Davis Porter is serious, and in making the charge, Porter is walking a fine line in seriously slandering Josh Fox and others with his reckless accusation, which has everything it needs except, you know, proof.
Porter made the claim in a snappy press release entitled “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy,” that jumps from the fact that the Russian gas giant Gazprom has hired a US public relations company to try and soften the impacts of sanctions over the Ukraine crisis into a dark and secret conspiracy to promote home grown fracking opposition. Believing this story would first require the laughable leap of faith that the PR firm's go-to Gazprom lobbyists, former GOP Senate hardliner Trent Lott (R- Mississippi) and Blue Dog Democrat John Breaux (D – Louisiana), are turning their backs on big business in their own states and hanging out with the cast of Gasland. Not bloody likely.
But that's not stopping Porter. In his press release he says the Russians are using the PR partnership not to get out from under pressing US sanctions for their illegal invasion of another country, but "to spread unsupported propaganda about the environmental and health risks of the practice of fracking."
Citing a dire warning he's already sent via a very serious letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Porter reveals that Moscow's "apparent strategy includes funding anti-hydraulic fracturing environmental organizations, placing misinformation in the public, and even mass media propaganda — namely their assistance with the distribution of Gasland, an incredibly deceitful film about hydraulic fracturing in America."
Porter uses wire reports about the PR firm's hiring to make explicit what RRC Commissioner Barry Smitherman only artfully hinted at in his letter to the marathon Denton City Council meeting in July over the debate on a fracking ban in that city – that US anti-fracking activists are being financed by the Russkies.
There's only one problem, none of the news reports about the hiring of the PR firm has mentioned fracking, even in passing. Even in footnotes.
To make that strained connection, Porter relies on an undated piece by one Keith C Smith who was with a think tank outfit called the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Smith cites nefarious Russian influence in Bulgaria's decision to ban fracking and German business ties to Russian gas to suggest that there's a master plan to leave Russia as the sole provider of natural gas to Europe and freeze out US imports.
Will you be at all surprised to learn that Mr. Smith has been "a consultant to several energy companies?"
To its credit, the Texas Tribune, which broke the story, asked Porter for specific examples showing Gazprom was funding anti-fracking efforts in America. Porter’s spokeswoman Mary Bell said in an email: There are multiple news reports citing Gazprom's influence and efforts in the EU and the US. Some are linked in the letter.” She means the Smith article, which shows absolutely no influence on US anti-fracking activities, and the news reports about the recent hiring of the PR firm to help the Russians avoid sanctions, but mentions nothing about fracking.
See how that works? First, we have a piece by an energy company consultant that says he strongly suspects Russian influence in the Bulgarian fracking ban, but can't prove it. Next, Gazprom hires a PR firm to avoid the repercussions of sanctions over the Ukraine invasion. Ergo, Russia's "influence and efforts in the EU and US" are plain as day.
When he was asked by the Tribune as to Russian influence in Denton's fracking vote, Porter spokeswoman Bell said that “the commissioner's comments are not specific to Denton,” but “Gazprom is spending tens of millions of dollars — that we know of — to eliminate competition globally. It's likely they've influenced much of the anti-hydraulic fracturing movement's message.”
Students of history know this is exactly how McCarthyism works – by innuendo instead of fact. Indeed, the Wikipedia definition of McCarthyism is "the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence." It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism."
Commissioner, have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?