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It’s official: The Caspian is a terrorist target

Steve LeVine, Business Week (journalist’s blog)
The surprise isn’t that terrorists appear to be responsible for an explosion that has shut down the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and sent world oil prices up. It’s that no such attack occurred earlier in the Caspian Sea region.

On Tuesday, a pump near the eastern Turkish town of Refahiye blew up. The thousand-mile pipeline, which connects the Caspian and Mediterranean seas and ships a million barrels of oil a day, could be shut for two weeks.

A Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK says it’s responsible for the explosion.

If accurate, the attack underlines the vast target presented by the energy infrastructure that’s gone up on both sides of the Caspian, and on into Turkey, since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

During the 11 years I lived on the Caspian, I frequently asked oilmen and diplomats about any precautions being undertaken to prevent terrorism, say, at the Tengiz and Kashagan oilfields in Kazakhstan, and the offshore Baku fields in Azerbaijan. After all, the Caspian is just north of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all that implies. These fields currently export about 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, and the volume will increase to about 4 million barrels a day in about a decade or so.

I never got back anything but blank stares. I assumed that meant the threat was understood, but that no one was going to discuss preventive measures in place.

But this week’s blast makes me wonder.

Steve LeVine covers foreign affairs for BusinessWeek. He previously was correspondent for Central Asia and the Caucasus for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for 11 years. His first book, The Oil and the Glory , a history of the former Soviet Union through the lens of oil, was published in October 2007. Putin’s Labyrinth, his new book, profiles Russia through the lives and deaths of six Russians. It was released this week.
(7 August 2008)

Peak oil and energy imperialism

Alex, The End of Capitalism
“Peak Oil and Energy Imperialism” by John Bellamy Foster in the latest issue of Monthly Review is at the tip of a growing awareness of Peak Oil among Left intellectuals. I’ve been waiting for this for a few years now, and it’s good to see that people are starting to make the connections between oil scarcity and US imperialism.

Foster is pushing a kind of “Green Marxism” – in fact the Monthly Review as a whole is beginning to focus quite a bit on energy and ecology in its critiques of US empire.

The approach is good – peak oil is examined with calm as an inevitable geological event, “alternative” energy sources like tar sands and ethanol are shown in their true nasty colors, and the reader is presented with the option of allowing the government to continue to assault those unfortunate enough to be born on top of oil reserves, or to work for a new humane world.

However, one place this critique falls short is in (explicitly or implicitly) propagating the notion that awareness of Peak Oil by neo-conservatives in the halls of power is what prompted aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq or Venezuela, and labeling this a “new energy imperialism.”

Unfortunately the capitalist system is far more complex and multi-faceted than that, and the neo-cons, like all US elites, are just tools existing to serve the interests of US corporations and the Pentagon, which they are doing quite well by continuing the same old foreign policy of trying to control the oil-rich Middle East (by force if necessary – with the added bonus of trillions of dollars of contracts for the military-industrial complex). If only it were as easy as pinning our problems on the ideas in the heads of those in power, all we’d need to do to end the crisis would be to put someone with better ideas in power! Sorry, it’s not gonna work like that.

The “energy imperialism” we see today as the US gears up for war with Iran is nothing “new” at all …
(4 August 2008)
Several of the articles in this Ecology special issue of Monthly Review are now online. -BA

Analysis: energy pipeline that supplies West threatened by war Georgia conflict

Robin Pagnamenta, The Times
The conflict that has erupted in the Caucasus has set alarm bells ringing because of Georgia’s pivotal role in the global energy market.

Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own but it is a key transit point for oil from the Caspian and central Asia destined for Europe and the US.

Crucially, it is the only practical route from this increasingly important producer region that avoids both Russia and Iran.

The 1,770km (1,100 miles) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which entered service only last year, pumps up to 1 million barrels of oil per day from Baku in Azerbaijan to Yumurtalik, Turkey, where it is loaded on to supertankers for delivery to Europe and the US. Around 249km of the route passes through Georgia, with parts running only 55km from South Ossetia.

The security of the BTC pipeline, depicted in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, has been a primary concern since before its construction.

The first major attack on the pipeline took place only last week – not in Georgia but in Turkey where part of it was destroyed by PKK separatist rebels.
(8 August 2008)