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Shadowy Private Intelligence Firm Helps Fossils, Federal Government Monitor Pipeline Activists

A shady private intelligence firm that “promises to help oil and gas operators mitigate the threat posed by an increasingly sophisticated activist movement”, and has counted Kinder Morgan and the Canadian government among its clients, is the focus of a Mother Jones investigation republished last week by National Observer.

Welund North America “is part of a deeply controversial cottage industry of private intelligence firms that has flourished in recent years,” with global revenue in the range of US$20 billion, writes reporter Adam Federman. The company “depicts the environmental movement as one of the energy industry’s most dangerous adversaries—comparable to the challenges posed by international industrial espionage.

“What we’re talking about here is an existential threat,” vice president of operations Travis Moran, told a recent oil and gas conference in Houston. “It’s threatening your operations, it’s threatening your finances, it’s threatening your reputation, and it’s threatening your viability.” Moran is a former senior counterterrorism investigator at Dominion Energy, one of the largest U.S. suppliers of electricity and natural gas.

Welund’s effort to court the oil and gas industry comes at a time when battles over energy development have reached a fever pitch,” Federman notes. In 2016, with the editor of Pipeline and Gas Journal declaring the anti-fossil movement “the No. 1 challenge threatening our industry,” Welund put itself forward as a specialist in profiling “activist threats”, with a subscriber-only intelligence platform based largely on open-source news reports, online information, and strategic analyses—a description drawn from the company’s contracts with the Canadian government.

Welund also works closely with Gryphon Sensors, a subsidiary of military contractor SRC that gives it the ability to track hundreds of “targets” simultaneously using commercial drones.

The Mother Jones article recounts the successful Canadian campaign against the Energy East pipeline, and the concerted opposition that greeted Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion before the company offloaded the project to Canadian taxpayers. It identifies the National Energy Board and the National Research Council as Welund clients.

“We’ve been using their services for almost a year,” NEB security chief Lee Williams wrote in an email to his counterpart at the NRC, “and find both their web content and bespoke services very beneficial.” A few months later, “the NRC’s security branch entered into a $28,250 contract with Welund,” Federman writes. Williams has since left the NEB, and an employee named Lee Williams is now identified as a Welund executive, but Federman couldn’t confirm that they’re both the same individual.

(This is a short summary of a much longer account. Click through for the whole story.)