by Karen Feridun
Originally published at Daily Kos on 7/22/18 7:50 pm EDT
The Washington Post reported today that Maria Butina, who has been charged with being a Russian agent, received backing from Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. companies. The article mentions that he serves on the board of the Houston-based American Ethane Company.
Last November, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of a $26 billion deal between the American Ethane Company and China’s Nanshan Group. Trump was reportedly nodding and clapping during the ceremony.
Earlier this month, The Guardian reported other Russian ties to the company. Vladimir Putin’s former Chief of Staff, Alexander Voloshin, has “an undisclosed stake” in the company, as did billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich. Voloshin is reported to have maintained contact with many in the West, including Henry Kissinger who advises Trump on Russia, according to the piece.
The Guardian’s investigation into Voloshin, conducted with The Dossier Center, revealed other Russian investors in the company, including Nikolaev, Mikhail Yuriev, a former state Duma deputy, and Andrey Kunatbaev, former Duma secretary. The American Ethane Company’s CEO John Houghtaling II is not Russian, but is married to a Russian woman.
Kunatbaev, who serves on the board of directors with Nikolaev, is described as a businessman who made his fortune in the television business and invested in tin and coal. He also co-founded companies with Yuriev called Amshale and Pesto.
While the American Ethane Company has focused its business on supplying China with ethane from the Gulf region, Amshale and its related firms Pesto and another called Lafert, describe their businesses’ interests more broadly to include fracking for natural gas and oil, in addition to NGLs. Although Amshale also focuses its work in the Gulf states, it has partnered with several companies familiar to Pennsylvanians, Ohioans, and West Virginians, including MarkWest, Schlumberger, and Halliburton, all members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Since the Obama administration, exporting Liquefied Natural Gas to Eastern Europe has been promoted as a way to contain Putin. As recently as this March, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry told the Senate Armed Services committee that "an energy policy where we can deliver energy to Eastern Europe, where we are a partner with people around the globe, where they know that we will supply them energy and there are no strings attached is one of the most powerful messages that we can send to Russia.”
It’s a plan likely to backfire if the companies delivering that American energy are, in fact, Russian.
How many more reasons do we need to ban fracking?
Karen Feridun is a founding member of Pennsylvania's Better Path Coalition & founder of Berks Gas Truth.