The World's 'Energy Game' Hotspots
A Shell petrol station in London. (Photo: Leon Neal / AFP-Getty Images)
For the past few years, especially since the start of the war on terror, oil prices have gone and societies across all the major industrial states have begun to appreciate the virtues of renewable energy production. The situation on a global scale is still in flux since opposite interests drive their own agenda in order to secure multibillion dollar investments or to gain political influence through the effective tool of energy, in the form of pipelines, terminals, and offshore installations.
The volatile Middle East is still the center of the globe when it comes to energy policy, which has consequences for the rest of the world. For example, according to the Institute for International Economics, the United States faces a probable economic recession, estimated at 30 percent due to a sudden increase in the hydrocarbon price index. Moreover, the Center for Global Energy Studies in London estimates that the geopolitical turmoil in Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, and Venezuela, coupled with the emergence of "energy nationalism," has reduced the daily supply of oil—from 2000 onward—by 7.8 million barrels. This is a substantial decrease, comparable with the daily consumption of Germany and France combined. For the time being, there are five hotspots where the 21st century's energy game is unfolding, which will affect the economy worldwide for the coming years.
More than 60 percent of the world's oil reserves are to be found in the Middle East. Its importance for the stability of the markets is tremendous, and any upturn of its center of gravity—Saudi Arabia—will find oil prices reaching as high as $250 a barrel in just a few days. The key to the future of the economy is currently in the Saudi Arabia and the neighboring oil-rich Persian Gulf states. Iran is the other important state in the region. The agreements that already exist between Tehran, the French corporation TotalFinaElf, and the British-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell, supply the European market with the much needed gas it needs to feed its industrial progress. In the event of a war against Iran, it is estimated that prices would skyrocket almost instantly to around $130 a barrel, thus throwing European economies into instant recession and, consequently, the whole world. The perennial problems of the region, the war in Iraq, and the existence of a multitude of terrorist organizations, all assist in creating a perpetual feeling of instability and will sooner or later culminate in some perilous outcomes for the world.
Lastly, how the international community facilitates stability in Iraq by reconstructing the country's oil industry in the short-term and supplying the markets with cheaper energy is a critical issue. The decision by the incumbent American administration will decide the fate of the Iraqi oil that is necessary for the function of the global economic system.
China might not be a significant producer of energy but it is a driving force behind oil prices due to its high growth rate. China has invested heavily in Africa and imports some 2.8 million barrels of oil daily. In Nigeria, China has secured investments of some $4 billion. In Iran, China signed a mega-deal of $70 billion that includes the importation of 150,000 barrels of oil for the next few years and the ability to exploit the gigantic Yadavaran oil-rich territory. Without China, prices would most certainly be much lower.
Russia is a traditional energy powerhouse. Under the dominant posture of President Vladimir Putin, it has dramatically expanded its clout on the world scene. Under the guidance of a state capitalism scheme in which Gazprom has a leading role, Russia constructs lengthy pipelines from Siberia to the Pacific Ocean and China, as well as from Russia to Europe. Further, the events of the past few years in which the Kremlin has pressured Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states to accept gas price increases clearly demonstrates the ability of the "New Russia" to play hardball when it comes to securing energy influence. European-Russian relations are already caught up in energy politics and will remain so despite Putin's withdrawal from next year's presidential race since Russia has firmly decided to proceed in the global arena by using oil and natural gas as the main instrument of its foreign policy.
Venezuela has the largest reservoirs of oil in South America and is under the administration of President Hugo Chavez, who is steadily building a global support network sustained by the natural deposits of his land. Cuba, Nicaragua, London, and even Harlem, New York, are some of the countries and cities that have benefited from Venezuela's oil subsidy programs, which are aimed either to secure political influence or to present the country's leadership as ethical and justice-driven. Moreover, two corporations, Total and Eni S.p.A., have already decided to hand management of two of their oil refineries to the state. Since 2006, 32 energy projects fueled by foreign investors have become joint ventures with the state-controlled PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.). According to the consultancy of Wood Mackenzie, Chavez's government has gained over $5.4 billion with those deals. Venezuela is a clear example of 21st century energy nationalism.
Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, faces large obstacles due to the conflicts in the infamous Niger Delta, widespread poverty, corruption, and public resentment of the heavy-handed political patronage. These factors together with its rising population growth and Islamic-Christian political and social fissure may lead to soon, thus affecting on global oil prices.
Global Oil Producing Countries (2004), International Monetary Fund
Saudi Arabia: 12%
United States: 10%
United Arab Emirates: 3%
Rest of the World: 40%
Global Oil Reserves (2004), International Monetary Fund
Saudi Arabia: 20%
United Arab Emirates: 8%
Rest of the World: 15%
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