The U.S. anti-fracking movement has found a new and unexpected — and perhaps unwanted — ally in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The mustachioed heir to Hugo Chávez’s sputtering Bolivarian revolution has become the world's most outspoken opponent of U.S. hydraulic fracturing, spreading his criticism to the four corners of the globe, from Iran to Saudi Arabia and Algeria to Russia — and that's just in the past few weeks.
With unflagging enthusiasm and a sleepless presence on Twitter, Maduro is lambasting U.S. fracking as a "geopolitical weapon" unsheathed by Uncle Sam to wage "economic war" against Venezuela, Iran and Russia. He blames the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which has nearly doubled U.S. oil output over the past five years, for undercutting world oil prices (now at $38 a barrel) and ruining other oil nations' economies.
Venezuela's state-run television network Telesur has joined the anti-fracking crusade, airing regular commercials like this one:
"[The U.S.] is not producing oil —and destroying their own environment in the process—to favor their economy or improve the world economic climate, but rather as a geopolitical weapon to impose itself on the world,” Maduro told a room of sympathetically nodding Russians during a speech last weekend in Moscow.
Maduro repeated his harangue yesterday in Caracas when he accused the United States of inciting a new cold war. The U.S.' plan, Maduro insisted, is to use fracking to “in first place to attack Russia, secondly Iran, and in third place to disrupt the economy of Venezuela."
While most environmental movements would love to have a high-profile president in their corner, those in the U.S. anti-fracking movement say Maduro's rants more voluble than valuable. That's because U.S. anti-fracking movements are focused on issues of water resources and environmental conservation, and no so much on matters of geopolitical intrigue and international conspiracies about world domination.
"President Maduro's fixation on fracking as America's geopolitical weapon is bizarre," says Brendan DeMelle, executive director of the DeSmogBlog, a U.S. climate and energy group. "Americans concerned about fracking are chiefly interested in protecting their water supplies and health and limiting fossil-fueled climate disruption. Geopolitics doesn't enter the equation for those worried about the direct impacts of fracking on their lives."
DeMelle says that the rapid growth of the U.S. shale industry is not the result of a strong government push, rather the result of weak government controls. Maduro's theory of a U.S. plot to frack Venezuela into submission just doesn't hold water, the conservationist says.
"It's naive to suggest that the U.S. has any control over the oil companies leading the fracking frenzy," DeMelle told Fusion. "Unlike nationalized oil in Latin America, the multinational oil companies tend to run our government, not the other way around. Major oil companies don't think of themselves as American, so Maduro's suggestion that the U.S. is using fracking as a weapon gives our government too much credit. Big Oil does what's best for Big Oil, and that's plain and simple profit motive."
While Obama might not be behind the U.S. fracking boom, that didn't stop him from high-fiving America during Tuesday's State of the Union address.
"We are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we've been in almost 30 years," Obama said, adding that the "typical family this year should save $750 at the pump."