Putin green: Greedy or tree hugger?

Greenpeace says NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen was being "silly" when he alleged that Russia funded environmental organizations to block fracking in Europe, thereby maintaining European dependence on imported Russian gas. Yet Rasmussen's allegation is hardly far-fetched: Both Russian President Vladimir Putin as his various foes increasingly view energy as a weapon.

In a Q&A session after a speech at Chathan House, the London international affairs think tank, Rasmussen said:

I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations -- environmental organizations working against shale gas -- to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas. That is my interpretation.

Noting that the organization's activists had been locked up in a Russian prison for having scaled a floating oil rig in the Arctic, Greenpeace replied that the idea of an alliance with Putin is "so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at NATO HQ." Other environmentalists also unleashed scorn on Rasmussen, whose five-year term as NATO secretary general ends this year. "It shows how ludicrously out of touch these people are," Tony Cottee, of the green group Rising Tide, told the Independent. "He clearly doesn’t know the type of person that has been turning up to demonstrate".

Greenpeace and U.K. environmentalists -- who operate in a country that imports less than 10 percent of its natural gas from Russia -- are not the only fish in the sea, of course. If Russia wanted to support anti-fracking movements, it would do better to concentrate on the one in Germany, which is by far the biggest Russian gas consumer in Europe. Germany has a fracking ban in place but is likely to lift it -- possibly as early as next year -- under pressure from industrialists seeking relief from high energy costs.

I find it entirely plausible that Russia is secretly funding anti-fracking groups in Germany and elsewhere. If so, the groups may not even know the ultimate source of their funds.

Putin and his entourage live in a world of conspiracy theories. The Russian president's economic adviser Sergei Glazyev said last week that "Americans have the goal of weakening the European Union" and muscling their way into the continent's gas market.

Glazyev has clearly been listening to U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has been pushing relentlessly for U.S. liquefied gas exports to Europe and is, incidentally, barred from Russia. Her rhetoric is unabashedly political. "America can and should be an energy superpower,” Landrieu told a senate hearing in March. “The last thing Putin and his cronies want is competition from the United States of America in the energy race. Tyrants and dictators throughout history have had many reasons to fear revolutions, and this U.S. energy revolution is one they should all keep their eyes on!"

Like Rasmussen, Landrieu seems to think of energy markets as a subset of politics. Yet the "shale revolution" in the U.S. and, potentially, in Europe, is better served by geologists and industry than politicians. Indeed, politicians rarely make good geologists. A recent wipeout of projected tight oil reserves in California suggests what happens when science is shaped by politically motivated optimism.

"It is widely accepted that shale gas in Europe can be too slow and too expensive to produce, and there is too little of it to seriously reduce the really strong dependence on Russian gas," German energy expert Steffen Bukold wrote on his blog in response to Rasmussen's comment. "So is the pro-fracking lobby infiltrated by Russia to distract from far more sensible solutions? Is NATO?"

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Comments
comments powered by Disqus
Check out Futures Magazine - Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome