It’s evident that we’re still on a planet where oil rules. The question increasingly is: What exactly does it rule over? After all, every barrel of oil that’s burned contributes to a fast-approaching future in which the weather grows hotter and more extreme, droughts and wildfires spread, sea levels rise precipitously, ice continues to melt away in the globe's coldest reaches, and... well, you know that story well enough by now. In the meantime, Planet Earth has a glut of oil on hand and that, it turns out, doesn’t mean -- not for the major oil companies nor even for the major oil states -- that the good times are getting ready to roll.
Of all the powers struggling with that oil glut and the plunging energy prices that have gone with it, none may be more worth watching than Saudi Arabia. While exporting its own extremists and its extreme brand of Islam from Afghanistan to Syria, and lending a decades-long hand to the destabilization of the Greater Middle East, that kingdom has itself been a paragon of stability. Nothing, however, lasts forever, and so keeping an eye on the Saudis is a must. That’s especially so since the latest version of the royal family has also made what might be called the American mistake (with the backing of the Obama administration, no less) and for the first time plunged the Saudi military directly into a typically unwinnable if brutal war in neighboring Yemen.
Combine the destabilizing and blowback effects of wars that won’t end, including the Syrian one, and of oil prices that refuse to rise significantly and, despite the kingdom’s copious money reserves, you have a formula for potential domestic unrest. Already the royals are cutting their domestic subsidies to their own population, pulling billions of dollars in aid out of Lebanon, and exploring a possible $10 billion bank loan.
As TomDispatch’s invaluable energy expert Michael Klare suggests today, when oil prices began plummeting in 2015, the Saudis launched an “oil war of attrition,” imagining that others would be devastated by it (as OPEC partners Nigeria and Venezuela already have been) but that the royals themselves would emerge triumphant.
Should the unimaginable happen, however, and should the kingdom itself begin to come unglued in a Greater Middle East that is increasingly the definition of chaos -- watch out. Tom
Energy Wars of Attrition
The Irony of Oil Abundance
By Michael T. Klare
Three and a half years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) triggered headlines around the world by predicting that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s leading oil producer by 2020 and, together with Canada, would become a net exporter of oil around 2030. Overnight, a new strain of American energy triumphalism appeared and experts began speaking of “Saudi America,” a reinvigorated U.S.A. animated by copious streams of oil and natural gas, much of it obtained through the then-pioneering technique of hydro-fracking. “This is a real energy revolution,” the Wall Street Journal crowed in an editorial heralding the IEA pronouncement.
The most immediate effect of this “revolution,” its boosters proclaimed, would be to banish any likelihood of a “peak” in world oil production and subsequent petroleum scarcity. The peak oil theorists, who flourished in the early years of the twenty-first century, warned that global output was likely to reach its maximum attainable level in the near future, possibly as early as 2012, and then commence an irreversible decline as the major reserves of energy were tapped dry. The proponents of this outlook did not, however, foresee the coming of hydro-fracking and the exploitation of previously inaccessible reserves of oil and natural gas in underground shale formations. More