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Middle East - April 24

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The Regimes are Rallying Their Forces. Is the Tide Turning Against Arab Freedom?

Patrick Cockburn, Independent/UK
In Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria leaders are no longer caught by surprise; their defeat no longer seems inevitable
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Is a counter-revolutionary tide beginning to favour the "strongmen" of the Arab world, whose regimes appeared a couple of months ago to be faltering under the impact of the Arab Awakening?

From Libya to Bahrain and Syria to Yemen, leaders are clinging on to power despite intense pressure from pro-democracy protesters. And the counter-revolution has so far had one undoubted success: the Bahraini monarchy, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, has brutally but effectively crushed the protesters in the island kingdom. Pro-democracy leaders are in jail or have fled abroad. The majority Shia population is being terrorised by arbitrary arrests, torture, killings, disappearances, sackings, and the destruction of its mosques and religious places.

In three other countries despots under heavy assault have varying chances of survival.
(22 April 2011)



This will be the Arab world's next battle

Lester Brown, Guardian
Population growth and water supply are on a collision course. Hunger is set to become the main issue
Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and growing food insecurity.

In some countries grain production is now falling as aquifers – underground water-bearing rocks – are depleted. After the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realised that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years, Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in its principal food staple.

But after more than 20 years of wheat self-sufficiency, the Saudis announced in January 2008 that this aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out wheat production. Between 2007 and 2010, the harvest of nearly 3m tonnes dropped by more than two-thirds. At this rate the Saudis could harvest their last wheat crop in 2012 and then be totally dependent on imported grain to feed their population of nearly 30 million.

... Yemen, with one of the world's fastest-growing populations, is becoming a hydrological basket case. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one-third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued its steady rise. As a result the Yemenis import more than 80% of their grain. With its meagre oil exports falling, with no industry to speak of, and with nearly 60% of its children physically stunted and chronically undernourished, this poorest of the Arab countries is facing a bleak and potentially turbulent future.
(22 April 2011)



Iraqi Oil: What is hidden inside the Oil Contracts from the 1st and 2nd Bid Rounds?

Munir Chalabi, ZNet
Over eleven months have passed since the signing of the oil contracts between the Federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad and the International oil companies (IOCs) resulting from the first and second bid rounds. However, to this date none of these contracts have been publicly released or published in any foreign language. Amazingly, all the contracts are written in English and none of them have even been translated into Arabic by the oil ministry in Baghdad, for the Iraqi people or even their representatives in the Federal parliament in Baghdad to look at and to see how their future is going to be shaped.

I have now obtained access to some of the contracts. My sources have specified that I cannot publish them in full, but I can discuss several aspects of them, which I shall do here.

My analyses will not cover the consequences of these contracts for the future of the Iraqi oil and gas industries or the future relations between Iraq and OPEC and its effect on international oil prices, as I already have covered these important topics in my previous articles
[Iraqi Oil: The influence of the 1st Bid Round on the Future of Iraq's National Oil and Gas industries and
Iraqi Oil: Are the 1st and 2nd Bid Rounds Part of A Wise Resource Development Strategy Or Could They Turn Out To Be Steps in the Wilderness? ]

... Conclusions

1. Articles 12 and 37 explain the reasons for the secrecy surrounding the 1st and 2nd bid round oil contracts and the lack of real transparency by the Federal Ministry in Baghdad. Not only have the contracts not been made public, but they have not even been translated into Arabic, which should make every Iraqi suspicious of the motives behind all the secrecy covering the contracts to this date.

2. Article 12 shows that the margin of profits which were agreed on officially with the IOCs' contractors does not represent the only profit that the IOCs will receive from the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, as the Ministry of Oil will compensate the contractors for the quantity of oil that they do not produce, which will in itself represent a penalty on the Iraqi people, whilst the IOC will receive additional profits for doing nothing.

3. Article 37 is a very significant article in terms of setting up the economic future of the Iraqi people and their future sovereignty. Therefore it is not wise to leave these vital decisions in the hands of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Oil or, for that matter, in the hands of a very weak government, without allowing the Iraqi people to have their say on their future by ensuring that such laws can only turn into lawful contracts if they are at least passed by an elected parliament, as required by existing Law number 97 dated 1967 which is still in force, or by a public referendum.

4. There are some analysts who believe that the US oil companies lost out from the awarded contracts, since only two of them, Exxon Mobil and Occidental have been awarded contracts. In my judgment this was not the case, as today what we call the International Oil Companies are really no longer national oil companies operating in the international market, as was the case up to the 1970s. In today's market, what we call IOCs are in fact multinational oil companies (MOC), owned by the multinational financial institutions (mostly US), with share holders from around the globe, and not by one nation's share holders. It is more likely today that the external size of operations and profits of theses companies comes from projects from all over the globe rather than from one nation, as shown by the cases of BP, Shell and most others including CNPC.

5. The contracts awarded in the 1st and 2nd bid rounds confirm that the US occupation of Iraq which started in 2003 did achieve some of its targets. In particular the occupation succeeded in ensuring that the future control of Iraqi oil stayed in the hands of the multinational oil companies and not in the hands of the Iraqi people and their legislative body.

Munir Chalabi is an Iraqi political and oil analyst living in the UK.
(24 April 2011)

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