Bigger than another Bali Bombing: Energy, Modernity’s Achilles Heel – Part I

The threat of Islamofacism (using Christopher Hitckins’s term) is what appears on the new everyday. Most recently, we’ve seen the arrests in France over bombing plots against the Metro and the terror alert in New York City.

Energy Security Is Paramount

While the Public is fearful of the next Bali Bombing or Madrid Bombing, a truly global catastrophe would result from a disruption in the global energy infrastructure; Energy is Modernity’s Achilles Heel. Energy concerns have been growing over unease over dependence on Middle East oil and raising oil prices. But what should be the biggest concern is the threat of Peak Oil changing the geopolitical landscape and attacks on the oil infrastructure.

Bombings targeting the deaths of civilians are all tragic in the sense of the direct effect on human lives – but a major energy crunch could bring modernity to a halt and surely fuel (no pun intended) wars over energy resources. Indeed, Hurricane Katrina and Rita demonstrated the vulnerability of the U.S. oil infrastructure system – lost oil rigs, refineries offline, fuel shortages and scenes of cars running out of fuel as people attempt to evacuate.

Peak Oil and China

The Oil Drum and has made quite a focus on the notion of Peak Oil (aka Hubbert Peak Oil Theory); the layman’s premise is that oil production will reach its peak sometime after 2000 and decrease precipitously. The theory has gained credence since accurately predicting the peak and decline of U.S. production around 1965-70 (actually occurring in 1971).

To not reinvent the wheel, see 1) Wikipedia and PeakOil’s primers on Peak Oil; and 2) peak oil in unindustrialized countries.

What is more important, however, is as oil supplies tighten up with growing economies like China and India struggling to quench growing energy needs – we are seeing greater and greater competition by major states on securing energy supplies. For the U.S., the particular concern for securing foreign oil is competing with China:

China’s growing thirst for oil will place a greater strain on the world’s top supplier, Saudi Arabia, at the very time doubts are being raised about the kingdom’s ability to substantially increase production.

Should output falter in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations, some analysts warn of growing tension — or even conflicts — over access to diminishing resources between China and the world’s biggest oil importers, the United States and Japan, unless alternative sources of energy are found. (link)

Indeed, natural resources are a growing strain on states everywhere, feeding the publication of books with provocative titles like “”Resource Wars” and the “Long Emergency” – growing competition for oil, water, natural gas, fertile land and so forth.

China has pursued an aggressive “go-out” strategy to secure energy resources internationally in Kazakhstan, Sudan, Venezuela, Canada, Peru and other places. Additionally, China building a deep water port in Gwadar, Pakistan as part of a long-term strategy to help secure the vital sea lanes that deliver imported oil to China from a potential U.S. “energy containment” by the U.S. naval fleet. All the talk of China building a navy to invade Taiwan is slightly misguided, secure and stable oil is far important than threatening its smaller neighbour.

Chinese oil companies like CNOOC, CNPC and SINOPEC are increasingly having their presence known in the world at large. CNOOC made a recent splash with its abortive attempt to purchase UNOCAL, causing ire with the U.S. CNPC recently purchased the Canadian oil company, PetroKazakhstan, out bidding an Indian firm by over half a billion; the purchase is related to a recently completed Sino-Kazakhstan pipeline that will transport oil to western China.

All of this is bound to cause increasing friction between the two top oil importers: the United States and China. India and Japan are not far behind as major oil consumers. United States’ relationship with both countries will be tested to see it can result in energy cooperation or a free for all. If/when Hubbert’s Peak goes into full swing…the stresses for limited energy resources will lead to growing disputes and conflict between states, among neighbours (such as Japan and China over energy-rich seabeds) and within nations prompting civil war.

Global Energy Supplies get Sytempunkt

With or without Peak Oil, another threat to energy security is not how well oil is doing below ground, but above…

To be continued…



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