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Politics & economics - Mar 13

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Nigeria: worse than Iraq?
(subscriber-only)
Jeffrey Tayler, The Atlantic
Nigeria's president and onetime hope for a stable future is leading his country toward implosion—and possible U.S. military intervention
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With an ethnically and religiously combustible population of 130 million, Nigeria is lurching toward disaster, and the stakes are high—for both Nigeria and the United States. An OPEC member since 1971, Nigeria has 35.9 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves—the largest of any African country and the eighth largest on earth. It exports some 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, and the government plans to nearly double that amount by 2010. Nigeria is the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States; U.S. energy officials predict that within ten years it and the Gulf of Guinea region will provide a quarter of America's crude.

It is hardly surprising, then, that since 9/11 the Bush administration has courted Nigeria as an alternative to volatile petro-states in the Middle East and Latin America. In 2002, the White House declared the oil of Africa (five other countries on the continent are also key producers) a "strategic national interest"—meaning that the United States would use military force, if necessary, to protect it. In short, Nigeria's troubles could become America's and, like those of the Persian Gulf, cost us dearly in blood and money.
(April 2006 issue)


Iran threatens to use oil in nuke standoff

Nasser Karimi, Associated Press via The Guardian
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran threatened Saturday to use oil as a weapon if the U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions over its nuclear program.

The nation's interior minister raised the possibility of using Iran's own oil and gas supplies and its position on a vital Persian Gulf oil route as weapons in the international standoff.

``If (they) politicize our nuclear case, we will use any means. We are rich in energy resources. We have control over the biggest and the most sensitive energy route of the world,'' Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran is the No. 2 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and has partial control over the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. The strait is an essential passage for crude oil from key producers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
(11 March 2006)


Democrats & oil companies: when the war was lost

Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch
Here we are, in early 2006 and the headlines are briefly given over to the disclosure that the oil companies have been underpaying their royalties from drilling on US public lands by $7 billion. One of the firms, Kerr McGee, is saying defiantly it doesn't owe the U.S. Treasury a penny and is suing in US court to have that view confirmed.

There was a time, a generation ago, when people here in the United States thought and wrote about the underpinning of the US economy -- the energy industry -- in a serious way. In the mid-70s the country was bustling with groups pushing for public control, for extending the regulatory powers of the Federal Trade Commission over natural gas prices, for break-up of the oil companies. In the late 1970s I remember a bill put up by Senator Jim Abourezk of South Dakota calling for divestiture of the oil companies failed by only three votes on its first reading. Abourezk remembers Texaco immediately pumped millions into a pro-oil pr campaign.

In the 1976 Democratic primaries every candidate, from the left-populist Fred Harris to the center-right Jimmy Carter felt obliged to sign on to a statement thrust under their noses by a group called Energy Action committing themselves to aggressive moves to extend public control over the private energy sector.

...Twenty years after their nadir in the early 70s, the oil companies had won it all.

By the mid-90s the oil industry no longer had any effective foes arguing for public control. Senators like Abourezk and Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio had gone. The public interest groups were successfully unplugged during Clinton time and the credibility of proposals for public control of the nation's energy resources undermined by years of neo-liberal derision coming from groups like the NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund which saw higher prices as the key to conservation, and which thus helped launch Enron on the world.
(11 March 2006)


Protesters, troops clash as oil strike hits Ecuador

Alexandra Valencia, Reuters
QUITO, Ecuador - Petroecuador said on Wednesday it expects production will climb to near normal levels in three or four days after troops fired tear gas to clear out strikers who have cut crude output at Ecuador's state oil firm by nearly half.
Production was down to 96,360 barrels of oil per day -- a slight improvement from earlier on Wednesday when the ongoing strike slashed production by nearly three-quarters. Petroecuador normally produces around 200,000 bpd.

...Petroecuador's cumulative losses amount to 156,992 barrels and the strike halted operations at 291 oil wells, the company said. Ecuador is South America's fifth-largest oil producer, with an average production of around 530,000 bpd.
Experts say Petroecuador's already bad financial situation has been worsened by the recent string of protests.

"This is a company on the brink of collapse," said Ramiro Narvaez, an oil analyst and professor at Ecuador's branch of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences. "This long crisis is starting to show its consequences."
(8 March 2006)
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