How Putin Became A Central Figure in The First Ever Vote to Ban Fracking in Texas
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-19 21:49:00 UTC
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Changes Everything October 15, 2014How Putin Became A Central Figure
in The First Ever Vote to Ban Fracking in Texas*

*The Putin tactic may have originated with Austin, Texas-based private
intelligence firm Stratfor. When the U.S. anti-fracking movement began to
gain steam in 2010, Stratfor began monitoring the activities of
anti-fracking activists. It did so on behalf of its “biggest client,” the
American Petroleum Institute.by Steve Horn and Alexandra Tempus*

On September 8, a Texas state regulatory agency sent a letter
to United States Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting that U.S.
anti-fracking activists are receiving funding from Russian President
Vladimir Putin.

“It is reasonable to assume,” Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter
wrote, “that their intention is to increase their market share of natural
gas production and distribution as Russia is the second largest producer of
natural gas in the world.”

This move by Texas coincides with the lead up to an Election Day referendum
on the state’s first proposed city-wide fracking ban
to be held in the city of Denton on November 4. But this particular move by
Texas to discredit activists is not a new one. In fact, it highlights one
way climate campaigners have previously been tracked and monitored by
intelligence agencies, public relations firms, and their powerful clients
to create “actionable intelligence.” That is, information that could help
undermine and eventually defeat social movements.

The letter was publicized in a press release
headlined, “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy.” It offers no
direct proof to back up the Putin claims, only citing “multiple reports”
linking Russia’s massive state-owned natural gas company Gazprom to public
relations and lobbying firms, such as industry giant Ketchum

Porter also wrote that Russia’s strategy includes bankrolling anti-fracking
environmental groups and pushing propaganda by distributing the Academy
Award-nominated documentary *Gasland*, which Porter called “an incredibly
deceitful film.”

Kerry has not yet responded publicly to the letter. And Carlos Espinosa,
the Texas Railroad Commission’s director of special projects, admitted in
obtained under the Texas Public Information Act that there was no actual
paper trail corroborating the Putin story, only claims from others in the

“Our information is based off of reports from the New York Times, CNN,
National Review, and many others, including a former American Ambassador to
Russia,” Espinosa wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “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 overall
anti-hydraulic fracturing movement’s message.”

Texas’ economic interest in developing its natural gas resources and the
state’s long history of working hand-in-hand with the energy industry may
explain its effort to discredit the anti-fracking movement. In his letter,
Porter insists that the U.S. government must protect the “vitality of the
industry that produces these resources and paves the way for American
energy independence.”

This cozy relationship between the industry and its regulatory agency does
not go unnoticed by activists.

“The RRC is not a regulator, but a facilitator of industry’s wishes,” Will
Wooten, a Denton, Texas-based anti-fracking activist who has also been
involved in the Tar Sands Blockade, said in an email. “Whether approving
the eminent domain process
for pipelines like the Keystone XL, or allowing fracking
to expand in urban areas with no real regulations in place, the RRC is
there to make sure industry gets what it wants.”

The Texas Railroad Commission did not respond to multiple requests for
comment for this article.

*History Repeats Itself*

The Putin tactic may have originated with Austin, Texas-based private
intelligence firm Stratfor. When the U.S. anti-fracking movement began to
gain steam in 2010, Stratfor began monitoring the activities
of anti-fracking activists. It did so on behalf of its “biggest client
<http://search.wikileaks.org/gifiles/?viewemailid=414076>,” the American
Petroleum Institute.

In a June 2010 email
<http://search.wikileaks.org/gifiles/?viewemailid=5539042> obtained by
*Wikileaks* from the now-imprisoned Anonymous “hactivist” Jeremy Hammond,
Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich made a now-familiar
accusatory overture: U.S.-based anti-fracking organizations — and in
particular, *Gasland* director and producer Josh Fox — might be tied to

“[Fox] said his film was paid for by HBO,” wrote Goodrich. “However, I
would be interested to see who else funded this documentary (ie Coal or
Russia, etc.).”

Personnel records
obtained via the Public Information Act show that the Texas RRC hired
Espinosa in August, about a month before the release of the Porter
letter. Espinosa
formerly worked as a senior counselor
<http://www.linkedin.com/pub/carlos-espinosa/4/8a8/183> at the public
relations firm Dezenhall Resources. Importantly, Espinosa gave final
to “tee up” Porter’s letter for dissemination to the press.

*PR Industry’s “Navy Seals”*

Dezenhall, the self-described “Navy SEALs of the communications business
previously hired security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) to surveil
Greenpeace USA as part of its issues management due diligence process.

In practice, that meant not only open-source snooping on the Web, but also
“pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover
operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of
activists, and penetrating confidential meetings,” according to a 2008
Mother Jones investigation

Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in 2010
against both BBI and Dezenhall, which was dismissed
<http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/documents/13-cv-685.pdf> upon appeal
in August.

In the world of corporate public relations, firms like Dezenhall and
Stratfor provide what Judith Richter, author of the book *Holding
Corporations Accountable: Corporate Conduct, International Codes and
Citizen Action*, points to as a key public relations technique:
“environmental monitoring.”

The practice amounts to an “early warning system that helps PR managers to
locate the smoke and take action before a major fire develops,” Richter
wrote in her book. “As a result of such information-gathering, public
relations firms have [developed] data banks on activist and other relevant
groups and organizations.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that such tactics are now being deployed in
Texas and beyond, working their way all the way up
to the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Barry Smitherman, another Texas Railroad Commissioner, cited these claims
made by the NATO Secretary General in a July 11 letter
<http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/media/21731/denton-ltr-7-10-14.pdf> to Denton
Mayor Chris Watts. In so doing, Smitherman hinted that those pushing for
the city-wide fracking ban in Denton, Texas might be funded by Moscow.

“It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing
are grounded in environmental concerns,” wrote Smitherman. “With this in
mind, I trust you will all will determine whether funding and manpower
behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out
of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such
a ban.”

*Out of Touch?*

As Denton narrows in on its vote on the would-be historic fracking ban,
powerful industry players have spent big money
to defeat the measure. Citizens on the ground in Denton recently told
the *Dallas
Observer* that the Putin talking point has woven its way into the
door-to-door canvassing operations
of those volunteering to get out the vote in support of striking down the
fracking ban proposal.

But Wooten, the anti-fracking activist, dismisses the Putin claims.

“While the [Russia] meme may be effective for [industry] on a national and
international level, on a local level in Denton it just sounds out-of-touch
with the issue at hand and borderline wingnut,” he said. “These tactics are
hurting their support among Dentonites, not helping.”
*Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based staff writer for DeSmogBlog and a
freelance investigative journalist. His writing has appeared in Al Jazeera
America, VICE News, The Guardian, The Nation, Wisconsin Watch, Truth-Out,
AlterNet and elsewhere. Alexandra Tempus is an independent journalist and
was a lead researcher on This Changes Everything. She is also a researcher
at Rolling Stone and has written on climate and politics for VICE News,
Mic, the Associated Press and The Nation.*
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