Posts Tagged ‘energy security’

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Saudis spooked by sputtering oil prices

October 31, 2013

Sweeter news than any Halloween candy, the T. Boone Pickens’s blog is reporting that the Gulf monarchies are suffering from increased U.S. energy production that has helped keep the global oil price in check.

Perhaps the Saudis wanted the U.S. to bomb Syria, not just because it would help Saudi-sponsored rebels to defeat the Shia-backed Alawite regime in Damascus, because it would have helped increase instability in the Middle East and drive up oil market prices.

The next time our heads of state meet, U.S. presidents won’t have to hold hands with or bow to the Saudi king.

From the Daily Pickens on Oct. 20:

Arab Sheiks Need – And Want – Higher Oil Prices

As U.S. oil and gas production numbers continue to climb, oil prices have leveled off. In fact, for the first time in three years, some American consumers are seeing the price of gasoline at the pump dip below $3 a gallon.

And that’s got Arab sheiks worried.

According to The New York Times – and T. Boone Pickens – the social commitments of the monarchies in the Persian Gulf require hundreds of billions of dollars each year. But lower oil prices and diminishing reserves are making that increasingly difficult, especially for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

Thus, on top of declining oil reserves, rapidly rising domestic energy consumption and increasing energy-supply diversification among its allies, the kingdom’s spiraling spending is also fast raising the break-even oil price for Saudi Arabia and all five of the other Gulf monarchies; in other words, the price of a barrel of oil that these states need in order to balance their books is getting higher and higher. In Bahrain it’s now over $115 (far higher than yesterday’s price of around $102) while in Oman it’s up to $104.

There is no easy short-term fix for this drain on the Saudi treasury.

Moreover, spending for stability’s sake in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies will necessarily be quite short-lived. The kingdom pledged a record-breaking $500 billion for “welfare” this year — most to be spent on social security subsidies and new public sector jobs.

Such vast wealth distribution can’t be kept going for much longer. That level of public expenditure is not sustainable and it flies in the face of decades of efforts to promote better fiscal accountability in the kingdom and wean the population off handouts and public-sector entitlement.

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The Middle East and your price at the pump

September 30, 2013

What to do about Syria?  One thing is to rid ourselves of the remaining vestiges of oil dependence on that part of the world.

In a recent op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Chris Faulkner points out that Syrian energy output is minimal, but the political volatility puts a Middle Eastern premium onto our gas bills.  If we pursue further steps toward energy self-reliance in North America, we could minimize the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.

Policies being proposed by the energy sector are making more sense than the policies being pursued by our elected officials.  Read it all:

Energy independence is the best response to Syria crisis

When an American missile strike in Syria seemed inevitable, oil futures shot up to a two-year high. Just days later, as U.S. officials began considering a diplomatic response, prices fell.

Many analysts have blamed these fluctuations on investor overreaction — Syria provides less than 0.1 percent of the world’s oil. But such assessments are dangerously naïve.

Any intervention in Syria would have impacted America’s access to oil and no one can safely assume there won’t be another Middle East crisis on the horizon.

That’s why the United States must reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Syria might not be a major oil producer or exporter, but one of President Bashar Assad’s chief supporters, Iran, holds the world’s fourth-largest proven conventional oil reserves.

More than that, Iran controls the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping lane that’s essential to the transport of roughly 35 percent of all seaborne oil.

There’s no telling what an Iranian response to a U.S. attack on Syria might look like, but if the mullahs even hint at shutting down the Strait, oil prices could jump dramatically.

The ripple effects of a U.S. military action wouldn’t stop there. A strike against Assad’s regime would inflame relations with other oil-rich nations.

The conflict has already worsened sectarian tensions in Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer of crude oil.

Even defusing the Syrian crisis won’t end the civil war there, nor diminish the prospect of future strife, rebellions, or war. Indeed, the Syrian civil war has stoked anew the centuries-old enmity between Islamic sects that threatens to engulf the entire region — a region that holds more than half of the world’s proven conventional oil reserves.

The situation in Syria has made clear why it’s so important for the United States to make certain our energy interests aren’t tied to the volatile politics of the Middle East.

In practice, this means embracing technologies like hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. These represent historic opportunities for America to gain greater control over our own energy security.

In the case of Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would deliver crude from western Canada’s vast oil sands to America’s Gulf Coast, the Obama Administration could dramatically increase the amount of oil we receive from our neighbor to the north.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that, once completed, the pipeline would deliver as much as 830,000 barrels of oil a day, or roughly half of what we currently import from the Middle East…

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Plan would reduce Canada’s need for OPEC oil

September 6, 2013

Canada is considering a proposal to fuel itself by building a pipeline from the oilsands of Alberta to the more heavily populated provinces of eastern Canada.  Although Canada is already a net energy exporter, this pipeline would be a further step in weaning North America off Arab oil and reducing the flow of petrodollars to de facto state sponsors of terrorism.

The rationale for the “Energy East” pipeline comes to us from a marvelous column by Ezra Levant (h/t Blazing Cat Fur) in the Sun:

Freedom oil: Energy East pipeline appealing and has a politically important spinoff

The largest oil refinery in Canada isn’t in Alberta. Neither is it in Ontario or Quebec, the biggest provinces with the most cars.

It’s the Irving Oil refinery in New Brunswick.

Trouble is, that refinery, like most of eastern Canada, buys imported oil, including from OPEC countries. It’s a paradox: Canada produces an enormous amount of oil, but we export the good stuff to the U.S. and import conflict oil for ourselves.

It’s not just that Canadian oil is produced in a more environmentally friendly manner than OPEC oil; we also use the proceeds for peaceful purposes, treat our workers well and respect human rights. It’s like the difference between Canadian diamonds and African blood diamonds.

There’s another difference, too: Canadian oil is cheaper – on any given day, oil from Canada’s oilsands sells at a $10 to $35 discount to world prices, mainly because of a pipeline bottleneck. So Irving Oil is spending literally millions of extra dollars every day on expensive foreign imports. All for a lack of a pipeline connecting Alberta to the East.

Which is why the proposed Energy East pipeline, announced last week by TransCanada Pipelines, is so appealing.

Its main purpose is to ship oil, of course. But politically it has a more important spin-off. At an estimated $12 billion cost, the pipeline is easily the largest infrastructure project in Canada. Construction will employ thousands of workers, mainly in eastern Canada. And the more affordable crude oil it ships will save thousands more jobs at refineries not just in Saint John but along the route in Quebec, where several refineries have recently closed and more are teetering on the brink.

The pipeline will carry a staggering 1.1 million barrels a day, enough to supply the refineries along its route and then some.

And so TransCanada and Irving Oil propose to build a tanker export facility in Saint John. Instead of Saudi tankers bringing shariah oil to Canada, imagine the possibility of Canadian tankers sending freedom oil out.

At the announcement ceremony at the Saint John refinery, rows of workers stood in hard hats for a photo, and behind them and around the site were simple banners reading “Alberta, Always Welcome.”

Nothing to do with economics, nothing to do with jobs. Everything to do with national unity and calling out the unseemly anti-Alberta bigotry that animates so many anti-oilsands extremists.

What a noble, dignified, grand answer to the critics, like the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, who has called the oilsands an economic “disease.”

New Brunswick knows this pipeline is the most important economic opportunity they will have in a generation; their partisan provincial legislature issued a unanimous statement of support for it.

Alberta wins with a new path for its oil, a path that can’t be blocked by a pro-OPEC U.S. president.

Quebec and New Brunswick refineries win with affordable feedstock. Construction workers win.Canada wins with a deep-water port to export oil to the world.

Who loses? Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Angola, three odious dictatorships that will have to peddle their blood oil somewhere else…

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American security enhanced as OPEC weakens

January 28, 2013

Thanks to increasing U.S. and Canadian energy production, OPEC no longer induces the wild reaction among traders that it once did.  This according to investor Travis Hoium writing for The Motley Fool (with stock quotes omitted) last month:

Is OPEC Still Relevant in Oil Market?

The energy market used to hang on every word from OPEC. A reduction or increase in production could send prices rising or falling in an instant. But, earlier this week, the oil-producing group announced that it would maintain production where it is, and almost no one cared. There weren’t headlines on the evening news or endless analysis on cable television. It was a story that was over almost before it happened.

This begs the question: Is OPEC still relevant in the oil market?

It’s not what it used to be
To say that OPEC doesn’t matter would be silly. In fact, OPEC’s production has grown faster than world production over the past 20 years.

You could make the argument that OPEC’s influence globally has grown and, considering the rise in prices over the past 20 years, the economic influence of OPEC has arguably grown.

The difference in the past few years is who is buying OPEC’s oil and where these trends are headed. The chart below shows that while OPEC oil production has grown slightly over the past five years, the amount of oil produced in the U.S. and Canada has exploded.

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/12/14/is-opec-an-afterthought-2-article-ideas.aspx

This chart may explain why traders don’t react wildly to OPEC’s statements anymore. It isn’t the U.S., Canada, or even Europe who is heavily dependent on OPEC for oil these days. China is a growing customer of OPEC’s oil; roiling the one customer that is growing isn’t something OPEC is likely to do any time soon.

Impact on stocks
The impact of OPEC’s waning importance in North America can be felt on the stock market as well, particularly by shipping stocks like Frontline, Teekay, and Nordic American Tankers. These oil shippers are being affected by a dramatically reduced need for foreign oil in the U.S. and Europe, and they are all bouncing near 52-week lows.

Right now there’s no end in sight to the pressure on these stocks. With oil production up in non-OPEC countries the need for long-haul shippers is in a steep decline.

The trend will continue
The general trend of increased oil production in North America, and waning influence of OPEC here, is likely to continue. Companies like Continental Resources, Whiting Petroleum, and Kodiak Oil & Gas are still expanding production in the Bakken Shale play in North Dakota and Montana, the Saudi Arabia of North America.

As long as oil prices don’t drop dramatically, the expansion of oil drilling and oil sands production will continue. OPEC will have less influence on oil traded in the U.S. and oil prices felt here at home.

Not forgotten, but in a pickle
With OPEC’s place in context, I would say that OPEC isn’t the power it once was… but it could be. If OPEC decided to drastically increase or decrease supply it could again have a major impact on global oil prices. But that’s becoming less and less likely because of economic reasons within OPEC itself.

OPEC countries are reliant on the revenue that oil exports generate — disrupting supply right now could be problematic. Increasing supply could lower prices and put pressure on shale producers, but budget pressures on many of these member countries requires that they maintain a steady profit from oil. It’s not easy to double supply, but the price of oil easily could be cut in half if another 10 million barrels per day hit the market, for example…

Strong analysis.  On the other hand, OPEC will continue finding buyers in Asia and retain its position as a global power.  And rapid growth in Iraqi oil production could shift the dynamics in OPEC’s favor too.

But the best things about the possibly diminishing power of OPEC are a lesser likelihood of price shocks, less dependence on a volatile part of the world, and less money to fund terrorism.

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Energy security: the chokepoint risk factor

January 14, 2013

5 of 7 critical oil transit corridors are in Islamic world

Looking for another reason to support domestic energy production rather than heavily relying on the fragile political and security situation in the Middle East?  Energy independence from Arab oil isn’t just about reducing the flow of petrodollars to jihad—it’s about ensuring our energy needs are met regardless of the latest turmoil, attack, or unrest in the Islamic world.

This map and background from the U.S. Energy Information Administration should be enough to persuade most citizens that depending on stability in these regions of the world is an untenable proposition:

Shipping lanes for oil

World oil chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About half of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes.

Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes, some so narrow that restrictions are placed on the size of the vessel that can navigate through them. They are a critical part of global energy security due to the high volume of oil traded through their narrow straits.

In 2011, total world oil production amounted to approximately 87 million barrels per day (bbl/d), and over one-half was moved by tankers on fixed maritime routes. By volume of oil transit, the Strait of Hormuz, leading out of the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are two of the world’s most strategic chokepoints.

The international energy market is dependent upon reliable transport. The blockage of a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs. In addition, chokepoints leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft from pirates, terrorist attacks, and political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities as well as shipping accidents that can lead to disastrous oil spills. The seven straits highlighted in this brief serve as major trade routes for global oil transportation, and disruptions to shipments would affect oil prices and add thousands of miles of transit in an alternative direction, if even available…

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Video: oil dependence

December 26, 2012

Do you want OPEC to keep calling the shots in the 21st Century?  Do you enjoy seeing American presidents literally holding hands with or bowing down to the Saudi king?

Regular readers know that this blog supports expanded domestic oil drilling to help North America decrease its dependence on Middle East oil.  Although Eyal Aronoff of the Fuel Freedom Foundation (@fuelfreedomnow on Twitter) offers a different course of action to deal with the problem of oil financing terrorism, this video as a must-watch:

Aronoff lays out compelling ideas for reduced oil dependence, and Money Jihad has as well.  Wouldn’t it be nice if national political leaders embraced just some of these ideas as part of a genuine “all of the above” approach to energy to reduce our reliance on Saudi sharia oil?

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Energy independence from Arab oil

December 9, 2012

A recent column by Tom Keane points out the tremendous growth in U.S. energy production thanks in large part to American innovation in hydraulic fracturing.  As he indicates, freedom from Middle East oil presents several benefits:

  • Reduced influence of OPEC
  • The risk of supply interruptions decreases
  • Military spending could decrease without jeopardizing security
  • Domestic economic/job growth

The purpose of independence isn’t necessarily about the price at the gas pump—that is a straw man set up by fans of foreign oil dependence and environmental extremism as a reason to halt progress toward energy freedom.

But let Keane tell it:

A new world of American energy independence

The United States is soon to be awash in oil and natural gas, positively brimming with the stuff whose scarcity and unreliability of supply has plagued us since the end of World War II. It is a remarkable, stunning turn of events — largely unforeseen just a few years ago yet now an imminent although still hard-to-believe reality. And the implications of this new reality will be dramatic too — almost all of them positive although not without some risks. Remember when the United States once trembled at the power of OPEC? In a short while, we may be running the thing.

Last month the well-respected International Energy Agency declared, “A new global energy landscape is emerging . . . redrawn by the resurgence in oil and gas production in the United States.” Within eight years, the America is expected to be the planet’s largest producer of oil. By 2030, we’ll be producing more than we need — exporting, not importing. The reason is technology. Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing have been invented and improved so that they can now economically unlock the vast stores of oil and natural gas across the middle of the country. The flyover states may finally start getting some respect.

It’s uncomfortable to admit this, but Sarah Palin had a point: The key to American energy independence is “drill, baby, drill” — or perhaps more correctly, “frack, baby, frack.”

Don’t count on this abundance making for cheaper gasoline, however. Oil is a global commodity, and, unless the United States decided to subsidize its price, it will still sell to the highest bidder. Nevertheless, the fears of supply disruptions and embargoes — remember the gas lines of 1973? — will largely disappear. Should some country decide to block the Strait of Hormuz, it’ll be other nations, not the United States, feeling the pain. (US law currently prohibits us from exporting oil. Even though it likely will be changed, we’ll still make sure our domestic needs are met first before shipping overseas.)

On the other hand, these newfound supplies may get us a cheaper military budget. Why is the United States so deeply involved in the Middle East but not in, say, Africa? Oil. For at least the last 60 years, its constant supply has been a paramount worry: without energy, the economy collapses. But that policy, while necessary, cost us blood, treasure, and integrity. Too often, we sacrificed our ideals to support a local strongman who could keep pipelines safe. And the wars, both far afield as well as attacks on our soil, have been a burden.

What happens when we no longer need Middle East oil? Foreign policy changes. Conflict is reduced, and our goals can, one hopes, become principled — less tarnished by economic exigencies, more focused on human rights.

There will be dramatic changes at home too. The states with oil reserves will see a huge bump in their economies (already shale-rich North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country). The entire nation’s economy will benefit too. With energy supplies and prices abundant and stable, business will thrive.

There are risks, two of which are obvious. Fracking can contaminate underground water supplies (and uses lots of water to boot). That’s an issue of smart regulation, however. We already take huge risks with offshore drilling — BP oil, for example. Fracking’s potential impact is arguably less risky and also more manageable.

The other has to do with global climate change. The scarcity of oil (“peak oil” — the theory that supplies are about to diminish — is now, at least for this century, largely kaput) had the beneficial effect of driving us toward conservation and cleaner energy. With a glut of petrochemicals, will that push stop, causing greenhouse gas emissions to worsen? Possibly but not necessarily. The natural gas being extracted by fracking is actually cleaner than oil. Then too, every barrel of oil saved by conservation or alternative energy is a barrel sold overseas — meaning there’s an economic incentive for using renewables.

Those risks notwithstanding, our new world of energy should be a cause of great optimism. Many fear our time is over; the Great American Century finished. The renaissance of domestic oil and gas are of such magnitude, though, it may be another Great American Century is about to begin.