The head of one of the world’s leading groups of democratic nations has accused Russia of undermining projects using hydraulic fracturing technology in Europe.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and former premier of Denmark, told the Chatham House thinktank in London on Thursday that Vladimir Putin’s government was behind attempts to discredit fracking, according to reports.
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 organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
He declined to give details of those operations, saying: “That is my interpretation.”
Fracking, a process that involves blasting dense shale rocks with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the tiny bubbles of natural gas trapped within, has been the subject of protests in the UK and other parts of Europe, and is opposed by many environmental groups.
It has been associated with methane leaks and the pollution of water sources in the US, and green campaigners fear that it will lead to a rise in the use of fossil fuels, exacerbating global warming.
Rasmussen made clear that fracking should be used, in his view, to increase Europe’s energy security, by providing a new source of gas and oil supply.
Nato’s press office said the remarks were Rasmussen’s personal views, not official policy.
Nato was originally formed at the start of the cold war as an alliance of western states, including the US and many European nations, and historically has often opposed Russia. Rasmussen himself has spoken out previously against Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
A Nato official told the Guardian that Russia’s influence on energy supplies was causing problems for Europe. The official said: “We don’t go into the details of discussions among allied leaders, but Russia has been using a mix of hard and soft power in its attempt to recreate a sphere of influence, including through a campaign of disinformation on many issues, including energy. In general, the potential for Russia using energy supplies as a means of putting pressure on European nations is a matter of concern. No country should use supply and pricing terms as tools of coercion.
“As energy supplies and routes are an issue mostly for the EU, we count on the EU to take into account the new security realities in Europe and look at whether there is a need to review diversifying energy sources and expanding energy infrastructure. Clearly, it is in the interest of all Nato allies to be able to have adequate energy supplies. This is critical to our economies, our security and our prosperity. We share a concern by some allies that Russia could try to obstruct possible projects on shale gas exploration in Europe in order to maintain Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.”
Surveys in the UK have found that there is a potentially large supply of shale gas and oil, perhaps enough to fulfil gas needs for several decades, though it is unclear how much of that can be profitably extracted. No shale gas has yet been produced in the UK.
Russia, a major source of international gas supplies, recently signed a $400bn deal with China to supply gas for decades to come, and has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, emphasising its willingness to exploit its dominant position in fossil fuel markets for political ends.
But the future of fracking in Europe is less clear than Rasmussen acknowledged.
The Polish government’s leading fracking expert recently told the Guardian that geology, rather than political concerns, was likely to be the main obstacle.
Katarzyna Kacperczyk, under-secretary of state for non-European policy and public and economic diplomacy in the Polish foreign ministry, and its leading voice on fracking, told the Guardian: “It is all about geology, whether you can extract the gas. Different parts of the world have different geologies.”
She said that there was “political will” to explore fracking in the country, but that even so there was no guarantee that Poland would be able to access its shale gas reserves. Poland is thought to have some of the best shale gas formations in Europe, but attempts to exploit it have so far come to nothing, though companies are still trying.
In the US, the development of modern fracking technology has led to a boom in gas production, but that situation may not be easily replicated in other, more densely populated countries, with differing geologies.
Green groups were swift to attack Rasmussen’s views, saying that they were not involved in any alleged Russian attempts to discredit the technology, and were instead opposed to it on the grounds of environmental sustainability.
“The idea we’re puppets of Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at Nato HQ,” said Greenpeace, which has a history of antagonism with the Russian government, which arrested several of its activists on a protest in the Arctic last year.
Andrew Pendleton, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “Perhaps the Russians are worried about our huge wind and solar potential and have infiltrated the UK government.”