With rush-hour traffic in full swing, Ukrainian-Americans and activists stand outside the Bank of America tower. The message they sent at the May 12 event: Show how an energy company with a Fort Worth connection has continued to purchase Russian natural gas. 

The tower is home to TEP Barnett, the Fort Worth branch of French energy giant Total Energies and a leading force behind the increase in natural gas drilling in Tarrant County. On Thursday, environmental activists repeated their criticism of the company for its role in two Fort Worth natural gas site incidents in February and April

Cars honked in support as two dozen protesters from the Ukrainian Cultural Club of Dallas, the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement’s Tarrant County chapter, Liveable Arlington and other activist groups held Ukrainian flags and chanted: “Total gets rich! Ukrainian children die!” 

Natalia Carter, who came to the U.S. from Russia two decades ago, organized the protest with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Club after learning about Total Energies’ history and ties to North Texas. 

With family in Ukraine suffering through daily bombings, Carter – who is half-Russian and half-Ukrainian – has sprung into action over the past two months by attending protests and drawing attention to the crisis. Her latest efforts include pressuring American companies to boycott Russian products and divest their interests from the country. 

“Any company that’s still working in Russia is really funding the war, especially oil and gas companies because that’s the whole reason why (Vladimir) Putin is in power, because of oil,” Carter said. “If the world did not depend on oil and gas, this would not happen. That’s the case for renewable energy.” 

Total Energies has committed to stop buying Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022, but company officials have said they cannot fully exit the Russian market. CEO Patrick Pouyanné said Total will no longer provide capital for new projects in Russia, renew its oil support contracts there or work directly with Putin. 

But, with European dependence on Russian natural gas and a lack of sanctions on purchasing it, Total will not stop buying gas or write off its existing assets in Russia, Pouyanné said. 

Protesters hold signs in downtown Fort Worth connecting local natural gas drillers to the war in Ukraine. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

“At this stage European governments have not decided to sanction Russian gas because we need it. Why would you want me, TotalEnergies, to stop Russian gas even if I cannot replace it?” Pouyanné told French radio RTL in March, according to Politico. “I’ll be very clear: if I decide to stop importing Russian gas, I don’t know how to replace it.” 

In a statement before the protest, Total Energies spokeswoman Tricia Fuller pointed to the company’s previous position on Russia. 

Total has condemned Russia’s military aggression, does not operate any oil and gas field or liquefied natural gas plants in Russia, and has withdrawn billions of dollars from a planned liquefied natural gas facility there, she wrote in an email. 

“Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is a tragedy and we can certainly understand the emotions this generates across the world, including right here in Fort Worth where a protest is set to take place,” Fuller wrote the day before the protest. “We fully support the scope and strength of the international sanctions put in place and will implement them regardless of the consequences to the company.” 

Carter and other activists are not satisfied with Total’s reassurances, asking for immediate disinvestment and purchasing of all Russian oil and natural gas products. She pointed to Shell and BP, two massive energy companies that pulled their interests out of Russia shortly after the war began.

“It’s about putting the public pressure on the company and them saying, ‘We don’t want to be associated with killing children,’” she said. “Other companies were able to take immediate action. It’s all impossible until it’s done.” 

John MacFarlane, a leader of the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club, holds a poster with photos of gas drilling incidents connected to TEP Barnett, a subsidiary of Total Energies. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Sammy Williams, a leader of police accountability group Emancipate Fort Worth, saw the protest as connecting social and economic issues affecting people across the globe.

“What brings me here is my concern for what’s going on in Ukraine and capitalistic funding of war,” Williams said. “Fort Worth has a lot to gain from selling weapons during wars like this, or through oil and gas, with Total Energies being the prime example.” 

Olga Eriksson, whose mother and sister are also facing daily bombings in Ukraine, traveled from Plano to attend the protest. She was less familiar with the business dealings of Total Energies and TEP Barnett, but doesn’t want Texans to forget the suffering faced by Ukrainians and their families. 

“If you’re tired of this, I am tired of this. I want to wake up and see it’s gone, it’s stopped. I just have no choice,” Eriksson said. “My contribution is going to places like this. When we show videos of all this to our friends in Ukraine, it helps them to feel the spirit of the world is with them.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...