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Bush to Arab nations: You’re running out of oil

Tristan Stewart-Robertson and Mike Theodoulou, The Scotsman
PRESIDENT George Bush yesterday told leaders of the oil-rich states of the Middle East that they must face up to a future without their precious hydrocarbons.
In a stark warning, he said their supplies were running out and urged them to reform and diversify their economies. The outgoing United States president told the World Economic Forum, meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, that it was time to “prepare for the economic changes ahead”.

Mr Bush’s family name is inextricably linked to the oil industry, and this was his strongest statement yet on the future of global supplies.

… Analysts warned last night that few in the Middle East, which has two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves, are likely to heed Mr Bush. Many have already started diversifying their economies and do not like being preached to by someone so unpopular in the region.

Gerald Butt, editor of the authoritative Middle East Economic Survey, said: “The Gulf states have been trying to diversify their economies away from oil for years, so they’ll say, ‘This is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’.

“Arab states don’t like being told what to do by outsiders, and especially by America, whose standing in the region is very low. Bush’s comments will be dismissed as unwarranted interference.”
(19 May 2008)

Russian energy chief urges gas export rethink

Sarah Laitner and Nikki Tait , Financial Times
Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas monopoly and the main supplier to the EU, should concentrate on supplying its domestic market to avoid shortages at home, one of the country’s leading liberals has argued.

Anatoly Chubais, architect of Russia’s 1990s privatisation programme and now the head of its former electricity monopoly, said: “I think that, in strategic terms, our priorities should not be Europe or China.

“We have this western stream, northern stream, south stream . . . .” he added, referring to pipeline projects such as Nord Stream and South Stream to export Russian gas to western Europe. “What I believe we need is a Russian stream. The Russian domestic demand is growing a lot. I think that Russia needs to restructure its strategy in this sector.”
(19 May 2008)

The King Versus The Radicals

Zvika Krieger, Newsweek
Saudi Arabia’s monarch is using Aramco-the crack state oil company-to build a Western-style university in a bid to outflank the repressive clergy.

… Aramco has always been different. Since it was created by Standard Oil in 1933, and continuing through the company’s takeover by the Saudi government in the ’70s, Aramco has functioned as a state within a state, operating by its own set of laws and standards and maintaining a remarkable level of freedom from the fundamentalist Wahhabi clergy that dominates the rest of Saudi society. This freedom, and Aramco’s impressive managerial efficiency, have helped it become the richest company in the world: a new study by McKinsey and the Financial Times put its net worth at $781 billion.

But the company’s splendid isolation may be about to end. Saudi Arabia’s reformist King Abdullah recently thrust Aramco into the spotlight by charging it with building a $10 billion Western-style university on the country’s western coast.

It’s a high-risk gamble. The project is part of Abdullah’s attempt to wrest control of his country from the repressive clerics, using the one Saudi institution that’s free of their influence.
(26 May 2008 issue)