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NATO Chief Says Russia Funding Anti-Shale Groups

The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said Russia is funding groups opposed to shale gas development, part of a strategy designed to keep European states dependent on Russia for natural gas supplies. The allegation was dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” and “amusing reading” by some.

In an interview Thursday with Chatham House -- a London-based nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs -- NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said energy security was "of utmost importance" to the 28 member countries of the military alliance.

"Of course, this is not primarily NATO business," Rasmussen said. "There may be NATO aspects, such as protection of essential infrastructure, etc., but we do have consultations among allies on energy security. But actually first and foremost, I think, it's an EU [European Union] business to improve or contribute to improved energy security."

Rasmussen said that if the EU wanted to improve its energy security, it must reduce its dependence on importing oil and gas from Russia and create a more diversified supply of energy. He said Europe needed to build new oil and gas pipelines across the continent.

According to Rasmussen, improved energy security "also involves a better functioning European energy market so that one single energy supplier is not able to blackmail one single nation," Rasmussen said. "Nations help each other in that case. And it includes development of new and alternative energy sources.

"I will refrain from involving myself in discussions whether you should develop shale gas or not, but in general, obviously the more diversified the energy supply, the better the energy security."

Rasmussen added that he has "met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engages actively with so-called NGOs, environmental organizations working against shale gas -- obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas. That's my interpretation. So it adds a new aspect to this information operation."

Although the NATO chief did not elaborate on Russia's actions, environmental groups were outraged over the allegation.

"Greenpeace had 30 of its people locked up in Russian prisons last year, threatened with 15 years in jail," a spokesman for the global environmental group said, according to media reports. "The idea we're puppets of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they're smoking over at NATO headquarters.

"Mr. Rasmussen should spend less time dreaming up conspiracy theories and more time on the facts. Fracked gas will probably cost more than Russian imports. There's little chance fracking will generate more than a small fraction of Europe's gas needs, and it won't even do that for at least 10 years. [We have] detailed plans for energy policies which would remove the need for any Russian gas imports to Europe entirely."

In a translated statement, German energy analyst Steffen Bukold posted on an EnergyComment blog Friday that Rasmussen's statements were "amusing reading," but added that "if you think for more than two seconds about it, you will ask if the exact opposite is true: Does NATO want to cement Europe's dependence on Russian gas?

"It is widely accepted that shale gas volumes in Europe can be too slow and too expensive to produce, and that the quantities produced would be too small to appreciably reduce the strong dependence on Russian gas. So is the pro-fracking lobby infiltrated by Russia to try and distract from far more sensible energy solutions? Is NATO? We can hardly wait for the next 'kiss and tell' story from NATO headquarters."

Concerns over Europe's energy security began in February, when pro-Russian forces took control of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. After a controversial referendum in Crimea to determine the peninsula's status, Russia annexed the territory in March.

The unrest in Crimea touched off fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in parts of eastern Ukraine. In response, the United States and the EU have leveled sanctions against Russia for allegedly fomenting the crisis (see Daily GPI, March 18).

Last March, based on estimates it received from Russia's Gazprom and Eastern Bloc Energy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said 16% of the natural gas consumed in Europe in 2013 was transported through pipelines that traverse Ukraine (see Daily GPI, March 14).

According to EIA, at least 10 NATO countries in Europe -- Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom -- have shale resources. In May 2013, EIA estimated that Poland's risked, technically recoverable shale resources totaled 146 Tcf of gas and 1.8 billion bbl of oil.

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