Oil, Security, War: The Geopolitics of U.S. Energy Planning. (the Business of War)

By Kretzmann, Steve | Multinational Monitor, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

Oil, Security, War: The Geopolitics of U.S. Energy Planning. (the Business of War)


Kretzmann, Steve, Multinational Monitor


THE ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE (RUSI) describes itself as a "professional forum for study of defense and international security."

Located in the heart of London, RUSI is an incubator for the latest defense establishment thinking. It is no great surprise to enter and find Robert "Bud" McFarlane, formerly Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, addressing a crowd of officers and bureaucrats.

The surprise last October was his message -- greater security for Great Britain and the United States will be achieved not by building and deploying more aircraft carriers and tanks in the Persian Gulf, but by increasing energy efficiency and automobile fuel economy at home.

National security would best be served, McFarlane argued, by focusing on reducing domestic demand for oil. Focusing on the supply of oil will prove "ultimately inadequate," concluded McFarlane, who once worked for the man who removed solar panels from the White House.

This is not your father's clean energy movement. At the symposium McFarlane addressed, there was little discussion of climate change or other environmental impacts of oil addiction. There was even less discussion of the human rights issues that have plagued oil projects from Nigeria to Colombia and Burma. The issue for McFarlane and the others at RUSI was simply national security.

After discussing various aspects of the costs of oil addiction, including the political and economic costs of maintaining security of supply, participants in the symposium then argued the case for a transition from oil as the principal source of portable fuels.

McFarlane and the RUSI may represent the future of national security approaches to energy, but they are not the present.

In fact, the Bush-Cheney administration is perhaps the ultimate expression of the "oil equals security" mindset. The administration's geopolitical strategy -- based in significant part on the threat or actual use of force -- in large part revolves around the perceived need to maintain access to oil reserves, particularly in the Persian Gulf, but around the world as well.

BENEATH IT ALL

To understand the politics of oil, it is important to understand both the geology and the industry. The world is definitely not running out of oil. Over the last 25 years, known reserves of oil have increased by almost 70 percent. If all new exploration for oil and gas were to stop tomorrow; the wells would not run dry for more than 40 years.

The amount of oil available is not simply a function of geology, but also of economics, technology and politics. Identified, or proven, reserves refer to oil and gas that have been discovered and remain in the ground, but could be extracted quickly and economically using today's technology.

Additions to reserves can take place as technological advances allow access to previously uneconomical oil, as has happened over the last decade with deep offshore technology; horizontal drilling and the increased use of advanced seismic mapping technology. Reserves growth also occurs during the production process, through the extensions of old fields or the discovery of new pools (fields) of petroleum. The price of oil or gas also has a significant impact on reserves estimates -- as price goes up, the higher cost of extraction from smaller, more marginal finds becomes more economically viable, and those fields are added to proven reserve estimates.

Possible reserves figures, which are cited as an indication of how much oil a region might hold for the future, are even more speculative -- although recent technological improvements have improved the reliability of these figures.

To further complicate the matter, both companies and countries have financial incentives to either over- or underestimate the amount of reserves in their possession at any given time. It is a complicated business, and outside the United States, there are no agreed standards for reserves calculations. …

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