Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Senate Environmental Committee Hearing: Witnesses Outline What They See As Attempts By Foreign Entities To Stand In The Way Of PA’s Gas Development

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Tuesday heard from witnesses who outlined what they see as attempts by Russia and foreign entities to hinder natural gas development nationally and in Pennsylvania.
Thomas B. Murphy, one of the directors of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, provided the Committee with a general overview of shale gas development in the state and noted the surge in natural gas production in Pennsylvania and the United States has had an impact on global markets.
In particular, Murphy noted, eastern Europe is attempting to diversify its energy resources because it has been solely dependent on Russia for energy resources due to historical political connections and the pipeline infrastructure in place.
“This [gas development in the United States and Pennsylvania] has challenged Russia for instance, which has over 40 percent of its national budget dependent on the sales of O&G [oil and gas],” he said. “On a competitive basis, any new U.S. supply offsets quantities previously delivered by Russia.”
Kevin J. Mooney, Reporter, The Daily Signal (a news platform from the conservative Heritage Foundation), said the San Francisco-based Sea Change Foundation is believed by a Congressional investigator to be associated with Vladimir Putin’s Russian government and has been giving grants to groups in New York and other areas in the U.S. to support its “Keep It In The Ground” initiative.
Mooney said the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters and the Energy Foundation have received significant grants from the Sea Change Foundation.
He noted the Sierra Club, NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters have “an active presence in Pennsylvania.”
Thomas J. Shepstone, Shepstone Management Company, Inc. and publisher of Natural Gas Now, said he believes nonprofit foundations have been influencing Pennsylvania’s energy sector in a negative way to prevent the development of natural gas and related infrastructure.
“The Heinz Endowments has funded one radical anti-gas initiative after another,” said Shepstone. “It is behind the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Clinic, for example, which is a purely junk science outfit intended to generate anti-gas headlines.
“It has funded PennFuture, the Clean Air Council, the NRDC, the Delaware Riverkeeper and even the online journal StateImpactPA, which serves as an echo chamber for stories ginned up by the former."
[Note: StateImpact Pennsylvania editor Scott Blanchard sent a letter to the Committee in reaction to Shepstone's comments saying-- "StateImpact Pennsylvania is an independent public media news collaboration that covers the state’s energy economy. It receives funding in part from the Heinz Endowments. Neither Heinz, nor any of StateImpact Pennsylvania’s other funders, nor any groups or organizations funded by the foundations Mr. Shepstone cites, have any say or influence over our news coverage."]
“We learned something about the Heinz family and one of the Heinz Endowments directors recently, though, that tells us there’s a lot more than altruism going on here,” said Shepstone. “We learned Chris Heinz is heavily invested in Burisma, a Ukrainian oil and gas company that brags it “operates the largest modern rig and hydraulic fracking fleet…in Ukraine and across the region.”
“Burisma clearly hopes to supply Europe with natural gas as a competitor to Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, said Shepstone.
“Burisma will also be competing with LNG from the US; Pennsylvania LNG that initially comes out of the ground in Bradford, Lycoming and Washington Counties, is then converted to LNG and finally shipped out of Cove Point to import terminals all of the world.”
After outlining several other possible connections, Shepstone said, “There’s but one antidote to all of this; sunlight. Pennsylvania can and should be requiring nonprofit tax returns in the Commonwealth to include disclosure of all donors giving such organizations more than $5,000 per year.
“It should also request the Auditor General investigate the unholy alliance between these organizations and foreign actors,” said Shepstone.  “What we need is what you’re doing today; exposing of the foreign special interests behind so much of what passes as frackivism.”
Additional written testimony was provided to the Committee by Kenneth L. Stiles, who teaches at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and was an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Click Here for a copy of written testimony and a video of the hearing (when posted).
           More Background
In June, The Caucus/LancasterOnline.com published a lengthy article on allegations Russia, which depends on natural gas exports to Europe for cash, tried to preserve its dominance by sowing discord and opposition to the development of natural gas in the United States, Pennsylvania and to specific projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The article follows a report by the Republican staff on the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space And Technology released in March of this year that concluded, “Russian agents were exploiting American social media platforms in an effort to disrupt domestic energy markets, suppress research and development of fossil fuels, and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas.”
The Caucus/LancasterOnline.com article pointed to a series of stories published by the RT website, which is owned by RTTV America, Inc. a registered foreign agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, that highlighted protests to natural gas development in the state.
Caucus/LancasterOnline.com also cited the story by Amy Sisk, a reporter for StateImpact PA, as she recounted how a photo she took at the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrators site was used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency to illustrate a story on the U.S. House Committee staff report on Russian influence in the energy sector.
Sisk’s found out about the use of the photo from a story in the Washington Post  on how Russian Internet trolls sought to inflame the debate over climate change, fracking and the Dakota Pipeline.
David Masur from PennEnvironment was quoted in the Lancaster article as saying, “Certainly the case against fracking is clearly supported by the facts and doesn’t need ‘fake news’ or any foreign interference to know that dirty drilling is bad for our air, water, health and environment.”
He added he hadn’t heard of Russian interference in the energy debate before a reporter emailed him.
Click Here to read the Caucus/LancasterOnline.com story.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.  Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to: yudichak@pasenate.com.
(Photo: Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction in Lancaster County, LancasterOnline.com.)
[NOTE: This post will be updated with new information and reaction as it becomes available.]
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