Showing posts with label oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oil. Show all posts

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Proxy War in Syria

 When Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson rather undiplomatically criticised key British ally, Saudi Arabia, for being amongst those 'puppeteering' in Syria, he blurted out the truth. What has been going on in Syria for the past five or so years has been much more than a civil war. Rival regional powers, as well as the West and Russia, have been intervening both directly and via groups on the ground which they finance and arm.

 What started as a bid to spread the so-called Arab Spring to Syria, with the aim of transforming a secular classic dictatorship (one party state, secret police, torture chambers) into a secular political democracy (which would have been a welcome development) was soon hijacked by Islamists of one degree of extremism or another with a quite different agenda. They won the support of the Islamic states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and of Erdogan in Turkey who would like to turn his country into one too.

 With Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey using Sunni Muslim groups as their puppets and Iran, which supports the Syrian government, using Shia Muslim ones as theirs, the conflict has taken on the appearance of being a religious one. Some commentators have suggested, much more plausibly, that the real issue, for these states at least, has been for control of territory through which an oil pipeline from the Gulf to a Mediterranean port could pass most directly.

 For the West and Russia, it has been more a matter of geopolitics. The Syrian government, long controlled by a wing of the Arab Nationalist Baath party, has been sympathetic to Russia since the days of the Cold War, if only because during that period America kept trying to overthrow it. It even claimed to be 'socialist' but only in the sense of running a state-directed capitalist economy as in the former USSR, to which its dictatorial political system was similar too.

 Although Syria was not specifically included in Bush's 'axis of evil' it was still regarded as a hostile state deserving regime change. Russia, even though the pretence of being socialist has (thankfully) been dropped, continued to support the regime, if only to maintain its naval base in the Mediterranean, an objective of the Russian state since the time of the Tsars. For the moment at least, Russia has proved more determined in the defence and pursuit of its interests than the West, and it looks as if the regime is not going to be changed.

 These various clashes between rival capitalist interests have led to a minimum of at least 300,000 being killed, many more injured and much destruction as in the images from Aleppo. Millions more have been displaced both within Syria and as refugees living in misery in camps in Turkey and, if they didn't drown trying to get there, Greece.

 As socialists, we place on record our abhorrence of this latest manifestation of the callous, sordid, and mercenary nature of the international capitalist system, while hoping that the fighting, the killing and the destruction stop immediately and unconditionally.

From this months editorial (February 2017) Socialist Standard

Monday, July 30, 2012

It's Scotland's Oil

 Umm...not quite..

 China may soon get control of a large slice of UK North Sea oil supply, which is key to determining global oil prices, if bids by its state firms for assets of Canadian oil companies Nexen and Talisman are cleared by the regulators.

 The Chinese state-controlled energy giant CNOOC last Monday unveiled a $15.1bn (£9.7bn) bid for Canada’s Nexen, the second biggest oil producer in the North Sea. If successful, the takeover will be China’s largest ever foreign investment. If approved, the Chinese would take control of the UK's largest producing oil field - Buzzard - and the Golden Eagle development, which includes both the Golden Eagle and Peregrine reservoirs in the North Sea, about 43 miles off Aberdeen.

Oil from Buzzard, although only 0.2 percent of global supply, plays a crucial role in setting prices because it is the largest contributor to the Forties oil blend, one of four North Sea crude streams making up the Brent oil benchmark. Forties usually sets the value of dated Brent, a benchmark used for pricing more than half of the world's crude, including oil from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, giving a Chinese company for the first time unprecedented insight and access into this secretive, yet enormously influential market. Foreknowledge of North Sea supply dispositions will give CNOOC a leg up in its trading operations, not only in the North Sea, but worldwide, should the company choose to make use of what it will be learning. Of course, there is nothing illegal or suspicious here. This system has long benefited the established oil majors like Shell and BP who use their knowledge of North Sea production to trade both physical and financial products linked to the Dated Brent assessment, including Brent crude futures. Instead of being a pure price taker, China will have some insight into short-term fundamental shifts that affects either directly or indirectly the cost of the oil the country must import.

Chinese refiner Sinopec said it would pay $1.5bn for a 49pc stake in the UK unit of Canada’s Talisman Energy, also a top 10 oil and gas producer in the North Sea. Talisman has about 2,500 staff and contractors and is involved in 11 North Sea installations.

The two Chinese firms will directly own 8% according to BBC estimates but consultancy Wood Mackenzie claculates it as 13% of all UK oil production if both deals go through.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Who owns the North Pole - Part 50

We have now reached a land-mark half-century of posts titled Who Owns the North Pole. Why bother? Because it raises questions of national sovereignty over a previously ecologically vulnerable region that will become increasingly exploited for its natural resources as a consequence of climate change. The issue of the arctic reveals the nature of capitalist expansion.

Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general, is the commissioner of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources says that Alaska has about 40 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and more than 200 trillion cubic feet of conventional gas.with some experts predicting that the United States could become the largest hydrocarbon producer in the word -- outstripping Saudi Arabia and Russia -- by 2020. Developing Arctic resources will promote our American interests in many ways: securing a politically stable, long-term supply of domestic energy; boosting U.S. economic growth and jobs; reducing the federal trade deficit; and strengthening global leadership on energy issues. Leading academic researchers and economists in Alaska have estimated that oil production from Alaska's outer continental shelf will bring federal revenues of approximately $167 billion over 50 years, and create 55,000 jobs throughout the country.

Sullivan argues that America possesses some of the highest standards in the world for environmental protection. "Developing U.S. resources in the Arctic has the added benefit of enhancing global environmental protection. One of the arguments used by Arctic drilling opponents is that "we aren't ready," but it is obvious that no matter what preparations are made, they will argue that it isn't enough...Delay or disallow responsible resource development, the end result is not to protect the environment, but to drive hydrocarbon investment and production to countries with much lower environmental standards and enforcement capacity. Last year, it was reported that between 5 million and 20 million tons of oil leak in Russia per year. This is equivalent to a Deepwater Horizon blowout about every two months. Russia had an estimated 18,000 oil pipeline ruptures in 2010 -- the figure for the U.S. that year was 341. If we do not pursue responsible development in the Arctic, countries such as Russia -- perhaps even China, which is interested in securing access to Arctic hydrocarbon resources -- will dominate energy production from the Arctic. Such a scenario does not bode well for the global environment."

When Sullivan cites Shell as an example of good providence, it seems he conveniently forgets about their operations in the Niger Delta. The estimated oil spill in the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years is equivalent to about one “Exxon Valdez” disaster each year.

Friday, April 13, 2012


It all began like a good disaster film. The gas alarm sounded and the emergency evacuation started. Only a small contingent stayed behind, labouring to plug the leak. Having failed to do so after hours of trying, they turned off all the machinery and electricity and fled the platform too. When the last helicopter lifted off, it left the drilling rig alone on a swelling cloud of highly flammable gas from the deep. For almost an entire week flickering way up at the tip of the 490-foot stack was an open gas flare. a company spokesman thankfully noted, the wind had been blowing the gas vapors away from the platform. If it hadn't, and the cloud of gas had come into contact with the flame, there could have been a massive explosion threatening to trigger an environmental catastrophe. Total, the French energy company that owns Elgin, the stricken platform, had lost complete control. Nor was this accident without warning. Weeks earlier, engineers working on the Elgin had noted troubling pressure fluctuations in the capped line. They tried to stop it with so-called drilling mud -- but the gas was quicker.

Despite the massive expenses and technical challenges involved in "high pressure/high temperature" drilling, multinationals like Total are currently investing several billion euros in them. The reason for this is simple. As Hauge, the president of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona puts it: "The easily recoverable reservoirs in the North Sea will soon be empty." Indeed, there are not many deposits left that can be exploited using conventional means.

The combined output of all British drilling platforms now lies at only half of what it was in 1999. In the meantime, the fleet of several hundred British platforms is becoming superannuated, with accidents as well as minor oil and gas spills more common. Forty-four of these monsters even date back to the 1970s, and workers on them are forced to labor just as hard against rust as they do for oil. Jake Molloy, an organizer for the union representing oil workers, has said "ageing infrastructure, a lack of maintenance and installation integrity" are among the union's primary concerns and noted that oil-rig crews often work under life-threatening conditions.

The major oil companies are increasingly handing over their ancient equipment to smaller firms, which then go after every last drop of oil and liquid gas they can. Hauge, the Norwegian environmentalist, finds this worrisome. "Small companies have less capacity to manage big accidents, both financially and technologically," he says.

Given today's oil prices, it's now worth it for companies to go after deposits that would have once been considered uneconomical. BP recently obtained permission to drill for oil in waters more than 1,200 meters deep northwest of the Shetland Islands, off Scotland's northeastern coast. Despite obvious dangers, the region's rich deposits make it appealing. BP has acknowledged that, in the worst-case scenario, a blowout here could threaten the far northern regions with an oil spill that would far exceed even the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster in size. It calculates that twice as much oil would gush up and cause several times as much environmental damage. But the company also adds that this is, of course, "extremely unlikely."

That is also precisely what engineers thought when they were drilling for oil over 21 years ago off the Scottish coast under contract from the energy giant Mobil, which would later become today's ExxonMobil. Their huge drill was penetrating at a depth of some 500 meters when it inadvertently punctured a methane bubble under high pressure. In an instant, the sea surrounding the drilling platform was transformed into something resembling a whirlpool. As has happened with the Elgin, the entire crew made it safely off the platform. But methane, which as a greenhouse gas is extremely harmful to the climate, continues to bubble up out of the sea floor even today. And nobody can stop it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who owns the North Pole - Part 29

Greenland is an autonomous territory belonging to Denmark. But the U.S. believes Greenland is headed for independence, presenting “a unique opportunity” for American gas and oil companies to make money.

With Arctic ice receding due to global warming, American officials have been cozying up to Greenland, where future oil and mineral deposits may become available to exploration. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that the U.S. and other industrial nations are jockeying to “carve up” Arctic resources in the coming years. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Greenland territory may sit atop oil reserves as large as those in the North Sea. The Arctic Circle could contain 90 billion barrels of oil, about 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. In addition to oil and natural gas, mining companies also have their eyes on aluminum, iron ore, gold and rubies.

One diplomatic dispatch states: “Our intensified outreach to the Greenlanders will encourage them to resist any false choice between the United States and Europe. It will also strengthen our relationship with Greenland vis-a-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland's natural resource.”

Tensions within NATO are also exposed, as Canadian leaders privately express disquiet over the alliance’s mooted plans to project military force in the Arctic in the face of perceived Russian aggression. Recently re-elected Canadian PM Stephen Harper is quoted by diplomats as saying that a NATO presence in the region would give non-Arctic members of the Western alliance too much influence in an area where “they don’t belong”.
Another cable quotes Danish foreign minister Moeller’s opinion that “new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the center of world politics.” The head of the Russian navy is quoted as saying “one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.” A 2010 cable quotes Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin saying: "The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight ... NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North."

Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe reacting to the release of the new cables, said “These latest Wikileaks revelations expose something profoundly concerning. Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it. They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.” Ayliffe of Greenpeace continued: “As so often before, this new military build-up is all about oil."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russia's Oil War

Just in case you may not be aware but the present crisis in the Caucasus may have more to do with oil and gas than protecting ethnic Russians .

Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline (BTE) carries some six billion cubic metres of gas a year (bcm/y) to Turkey, some of which is then forwarded to Greece. As Azerbaijani gas output grows, the line should reach its full 20 bcm/y capacity by about 2014.The European Union is also backing proposals for development of essentially parallel lines to carry as much as a further 30 bcm/y of gas from Turkmenistan, and perhaps Kazakhstan.The EU calls the route through Azerbaijan and Georgia its "Fourth Corridor" - matching existing supply systems from Russia, Norway and North Africa - with concept projects such as the planned Nabucco pipeline from the Georgian-Turkish border to Austria seen as ways of implementing it.

Because transit through such a corridor bypasses Russia, it offers advantages to both Caspian producers and European consumers.Producers gain direct access to end-consumers at market prices, whereas at present Russia buys gas from Central Asia at one price, and then sells gas to Europe at much higher prices, the difference being far more than pure transportation costs would merit.

Other major lines that currently transit Georgia.

The biggest is the 1.0 mb/d capacity Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which carries crude oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan, from whence it gets transported by tanker to both Europe and the United States.

The next major line is Baku-Supsa, a 150,000 b/d line that has just reopened after undergoing substantial renovation.It carries oil to the Black Sea, but the port of Supsa is just 25 kilometres from Poti, the port which handles most of Georgia's imports and which was bombed and shelled by Russian forces.

Friday, July 25, 2008

who owns the North Pole - part 11

The Socialist Copurier has been following the scramble for the Arctic and its resources for a while now.
The lasted development has been the research by the US Geological Survey revealing that the Arctic is estimated to hold 90 billion barrels of untapped oil and has three times as much untapped natural gas as oil.
The figures from the USGS are said to be the first estimate of the energy available north of the Arctic circle. According to the survey, the Arctic holds about 13% of the world's undiscovered oil, 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20% of the undiscovered natural gas liquids. Exploration companies believe the recent rapid ice melt in the Arctic may make it easier to get reserves out of the region.
Hence the importance placed on the competition for territorial rights and sovereignty in the Arctic region .