Did the Russians attack a Texas energy plant?

On June 8, a potentially disastrous situation was mostly averted at the Freeport liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) plant outside of Houston, Texas. An explosion at the plant took place after a leak in one of the pipes released a cloud of natural gas into the area and it burst into flames. Fortunately, the gas dissipated quickly and the blast didn’t extend past the enclosed area of the compound. Local firefighters had the flames extinguished quickly and there were no injuries reported, but the plant suffered damage that will limit its output for much of the year.

Normally, a story like this wouldn’t raise many eyebrows. LNG is notoriously challenging to work with because of the high pressure it must be kept under and the explosive nature of the gas if it is depressurized and released. Accidents do happen in this industry from time to time. But as Jim Geraghty points out at the Morning Jolt today, there could be more to the story than meets the eye. Potentially much more. Investigative reporter Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner may have found a link between the Freeport blast and Russian intelligence assets who may have connections to the event. And there are some obvious motives for the Russians to be interested in slashing America’s LNG production capabilities.

Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner might — with an emphasis on might — have one of the biggest scoops of the year: a possible link between Russian military intelligence and an explosion at a liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) plant and export terminal on Quintana Island, near Houston, on June 8.

Rogan writes: “According to two sources, around the time of Russia’s late February invasion of Ukraine, a cyber unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service again conducted targeting-reconnaissance operations against a major U.S. liquefied natural gas exporter, Freeport LNG. U.S. LNG exports have long been a priority concern for Russia, viewed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a means for the United States to undercut Russia’s domination of the European gas market.”

The company’s own account of the blast, which Jim provides, doesn’t appear to suggest any concrete evidence of foul play. It was also noted that accidents and leaks have taken place at that plant in the past. So this could still easily have simply been a case of old, rusting pipes giving way under the pressure of the LNG flowing through them. And it would only take one spark to set the combustion event in motion.

But Rogan has very good sources in the government, intelligence, and military communities. When he catches a whiff of something potentially being hidden under the covers, it’s generally a good idea to pay attention. For instance, the FBI reportedly took an immediate interest in the blast, though they will neither confirm nor deny in public whether an investigation is ongoing. Why would the FBI be interested in a seemingly mundane industrial accident that was quickly contained? And those reports of the GRU taking an interest in Freeport during the early days of the invasion of Ukraine are not only interesting but logical.

Russia sees American LNG exports to Europe as a threat to their previous dominance of the natural gas market in eastern Europe. With all of the sanctions being imposed on them and more and more European nations cutting off their imports of Russian energy products, that situation became more critical. Would it really be so crazy to ask if the GRU was working to stifle American LNG exports during such a historical juncture of events?

But how would they do it? One possibility is always the threat of a cyberattack. You can’t use the dark web to blow up a gas pipe, but you might be able to hack into the control system and start turning up the pressure remotely. Then there’s the question of whether or not it might have been a physical attack. Let’s not forget that we have seen multiple instances of Russians being found crossing the Mexican border into Texas during the Biden border crisis. Most are viewed as being Russians who oppose the war and are seeking asylum. But we know of at least one specific incident where 18 Russians were apprehended after trying to barrel across a border crossing in a group of vehicles. Those are the ones we caught. Were there others that we didn’t?

That would be bold of Moscow indeed if they were attempting to send terrorists onto U.S. soil to attack an energy plant. But we live in an era where all manner of unprecedented events are unfolding. Again, this may all turn out to have been a simple industrial accident. But if we later learn that it was something more sinister, remember where you heard it first.

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