Does Vladimir Putin Want Denton to Ban Fracking?

Who stands to benefit if Denton bans fracking?

Those behind the petition drive say it will benefit the Denton residents because they won’t have to worry about wells being fracked less than 300 feet away from their homes, which is what happened to several neighborhoods in South Denton.

Economist Ray Perryman said the result will be millions of dollars and jobs lost for Denton, costing the city up to $251.4 million over 10 years.

Being the oil capital of the country and one of top producers of oil and gas worldwide,the stakes will be high when Denton voters cast their ballot on Nov. 4.

It could lead other cities to follow suit.

But who else benefits?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his state-owned Gazprom Bank?

That’s what Texas Railroad CommissionerDavid Porter said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry dated Sept. 8. He makes no specific mention of Denton’s petition drive or the upcoming referendum on fracking.

Instead Porter focuses on Gazprom’s hiring of two former U.S. senators, Trent Lott, R-Miss., and John Breaux, D-La., as lobbyists. This occurred despite Gazprom being under U.S. sanctions for Russia’s alleged role in shooting down the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 283 people, Porter said.

“I am greatly concerned that a blacklisted, government-owned Russian bank is able to continue its campaign to weaken the American oil and gas industry and to hire two former United States senators to exert pressure on American policymakers,” Porter wrote in his letter.

He goes on to say that Gazprom has paid public relations firms such as Ketchum millions of dollars damage the natural gas industry in Europe and America.

“It is reasonable to assume 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,” Porter said.

America is the number one producer, in part because of hydraulic fracking techniques that debuted in the Barnett Shale. And Texas produces one third of U.S. natural gas, which makes this personal for Porter and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Russia has an agenda, Porter said, to fund anti-fracking efforts, support environmental groups and place misinformation in the public, including the Gasland films, which he called deceitful.

“Gazprom’s effort, with the assistance of the Kremlin and Ketchum, has already resulted in the ban of hydraulic fracturing in many EU countries, and now, they have their sights set on the U.S.,” Porter said.

He called on Kerry to close the loopholes in the U.S. sanctions that allow Gazprom to interfere in U.S. policy and politics.

In an emailed response to the DBJ, Porter's spokeswoman Mary Bell said the commissioner's comments in the letter are not specific to Denton.

"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," Bell said.

Fellow Texas Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman did raise the question of whether Russia’s influence was behind the movement in Denton.

In a letter to the Denton City Council in July, Smitherman said the secretary general of NATO accused Russia of working with environmental groups to ban fracking, increasing Europe’s dependence on imports from Russia.

“It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns,” Smitherman wrote. “With this in mind, I trust you 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.”

The effort has gotten support from national environmental groups and left-leaning political groups such as Move On who would have made it clear they want to have a victory in Texas.

At a marathon Denton City Council meeting in July, several supporters of the frack ban laughed at the idea that Russia could be behind their grassroots effort.

Many energy experts say the U.S. should move quickly to increase exports of natural gas so countries have alternative sources, especially in the winter. But building export facilities to liquefy natural gas so it can be shipped overseas costs billions of dollars and requires lengthy federal review.

Paid For By Denton Taxpayers For A Strong Economy