British arms trade - search results
Global Research 17/2/2014
Current bilateral free trade agreement negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and are closed to proper public scrutiny (1,2). This is because they effectively constitute part of the ongoing corporate hijack of democracy and the further restructuring of economies in favour of elite interests (3,4,5).
In the 39 documents which were “partially released”, large parts of text (“non releasable” or “not relevant”) have been hidden. In some cases, every single word has been removed from the document.
In many cases parts of text are removed because they contain the views of industry lobby groups “on particular aspects of the EU/US trade negotiations.” “Release of that information could have a negative impact on the position of the industry", the Commission argues. CEO argues that it is entirely unclear this means and why the views of the lobby groups should be hidden from public scrutiny.
The Commission has also removed all names of lobbyists from the 44 documents arguing that “disclosure would undermine the protection of […] privacy and the integrity of the individual”. Again CEO argues that this is an absurd line of argument as these are professional lobbyists who are not acting in an individual capacity. There is clear public interest in transparency around who is lobbying on whose behalf and who is getting access to EU decision-makers.
A leaked EU document (10) from the winter of 2013 shows the Commission proposing an EU-US Regulatory Cooperation Council, a permanent structure to be created as part of the TTIP deal. Existing and future EU regulation will then have to go through a series of investigations, dialogues and negotiations in this Council. This would move decisions on regulations into a technocratic sphere, away from democratic scrutiny. Is it not enough that EU member states could find domestic laws to protect the public interest quite useless under proposed investor-state dispute settlement provisions (9)?.Also, there would be compulsory impact assessments for proposed regulation, which will be checked for their potential impact on trade. What about whether they protect people’s health or are good for the environment?
CEO concludes on its website:
“Ending the secrecy around the negotiations is crucial for allowing citizens to assess what is being negotiated in their name. This transparency should include the EU's negotiating position, and also shed a clear light on the involvement of corporate lobbyists in preparing the negotiations.”
The British Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster (Reuters / Darrin Zammit Lupi)
Amid an undeclared arms race among European defense contractors to reequip Libya’s armed forces, Britain is sending a Royal Navy war ship to Tripoli to act as a floating show room for security firms.
A British government agency, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), is organizing an arms fair on a Royal Navy frigate, which will dock in Tripoli, Libya at the beginning of April.
UKTI has so far refused to disclose exactly what businesses will be there and what gear they will be showcasing.
“There is a scramble among European arms firms to sell to Libya with the Italians and French leading the way. In 2001 before the imposition of the arms embargo, EU countries had approved licenses to Libya worth 34 million euro,” Kaye Stearman, Media Co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told RT.
UKTI describes the event on its website as “an opportunity for UK defense and security to promote equipment and services to the Libyan navy aboard a Royal Navy vessel in Tripoli” and that it hoped to “attract key senior military personal from the Libyan government”.
A UN arms embargo is still in place and with the UK Foreign Office describing Libya as a “country of concern” with regard to its human rights abuses; Britain is restricted in terms of what it can sell. Sir John Stanley, who chairs the committees of arms export control, has said he expects the government to adhere to the criteria of arms export licenses.
UKTI has said that no weapons will be offered for sale and the Libyans will be offered specialist equipment for port security, such as inflatable dinghies or uniforms.
However, Stearman believes that the sale of arms is the ultimate priority of the event.
“When an arms company takes part in an arms fair or exhibition, it is with the expectation of sales, and it is hard to believe that the only equipment on sale will relate to security,” she said.
The exhibition appears to be part of a wider policy by the UK government of a strategy to foster relations with countries where Britain has security and business interests.
In the past the UKTO listed Libya as a “priority market” for UK arms sales, which were openly sold to Gaddafi’s regime before the uprising against him. There was also a Libyan delegation at the Farnborough Air Show in July 2012, which showcased British aerospace defense equipment such as the Typhoon fighter jet.
Speaking at the Farnborough airshow last year Chris Baker, the operations director of UKTI’s defense arm, said the UKTI was looking at Libya’s border and maritime security and “at rebuilding their defense infrastructure” and “getting their air force back on its feet from scratch”.
By March 2011 British companies had won £62 million ($95.8 million) worth of arms exports to Gaddafi since the arms embargo on Libya was lifted in October 2004. Since the fall of Gaddafi, Britain has also offered to train Libya’s army and police.
But prominent Libyans have raised concerns that the race to win defense contract could end up with weapons falling into the wrong hands, in a country which is already awash with weapons and where security is a major issue.
“I can’t see the point in having this kind of exhibition in Libya now. One of our problems is that there are arms everywhere,” Hassan el-Amin, who is chair of the congress communications committee, and lived in Britain for 28 years, told the Guardian.
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, said he was not against Britain having a strong arms industry, which exports worldwide, but questioned the timing of the fair and was saddened by the UKTI attempting to establish a relationship with a country in terms of arms when Britain has so many other things for sale.
“I think it is deeply regrettable that the first thing the UK should be trying to export to a country recovering from a conflict situation is arms. It would be much better if we were offering them support in other ways such as helping to rebuild their infrastructure,” Gardiner told RT.
Stearman also voiced concern that the UKTI has not released a date for the exhibition or said which companies will be attending and said that “part of the reason for the lack of information about this event, is that the government would be embarrassed by a more high profile event”.
A survey carried out by the Sunday Times in 2011found that 77% of the British public felt it was wrong to sell arms to Gaddafi’s regime.
“What is needed in Libya are efforts to demilitarize and invest in civil infrastructure,” said Stearman.
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You can also add to that ten million, countless others whose lives have been sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit, which did not rely on the military to bomb peoples and countries into submission but on the IMF, World Bank and WTO. It begs the question how many lives have been cut short across the world because of the inherent structural violence or silent killing of the everyday functioning of predatory capitalism?
Peddling their high salaried deceptions, they have failed and continue to fail the public and genuinely hold power to account. By shining their ‘investigative’ light on ‘parliamentary procedures’, personalities, the rubber stamping of policies and the inane machinations of party politics, they merely serve to maintain and perpetuate the status quo and keep the public in the dark as to the unaccountable self-serving nature of power broking and the unity ofinterests that enable Big Oil, Big Finance, Big Pharma, Big Agra and the rest of them via their secretive think tanks and policy initiatives to keep bleeding us all dry.
But that’s the role of the media: to help reinforce and reproduce the material conditions of a divisive social system on a daily basis. It’s called having a compliant, toothless media. It’s what the corporate media itself calls part of ‘liberal democracy’. And in this type of 'liberal democracy', it is people like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange who expose the wrongdoings of the political-corporate elites that are hounded.
MI5 targeted labour correspondents in both newspapers and broadcasting right up to the 80s; they were recruited in droves for their contacts with a wide range of trade union officials and with each other. According to Peter Wright, MI5 always had about twenty senior journalists working for it in the national press. “They were not employed directly by us, but we regarded them as agents because they were happy to be associated with us.”
At the BBC, Brigadier Ronald Stonham liaised with MI5 and Special Branch and advised the corporation on whether or not to employ people. Names of applicants for editorial posts in the BBC were similarly ‘vetted’ by MI5.
“There should be times when the journalist, when he’s examined all the facts and tested all his sources, should come down on the side of the government of the day, the established order and the Establishment as a whole.” - Chairman of the Radio Authority
“We are in a period of considerable social change. There may be social unrest, but we can cope with the Toxteths… but if we have a highly-educated and idle population, we may possibly anticipate more serious conflict. People must be educated to once more know their place.” – from a secret Department of Education Report.
(all links are in italics)
“It’s scandalous that UK aid money is being used to carve up Africa in the interests of big business. This is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is support to small-scale farmers and fairer distribution of land and resources to give African countries more control over their food systems. Africa can produce enough food to feed its people. The problem is that our food system is geared to the luxury tastes of the richest, not the needs of ordinary people. Here the British government is using aid money to make the problem even worse.”
“This is an extension of what the Gates Foundation has been doing for several years – working with the US government and agribusiness giants like Monsanto to corporatize Africa’s genetic riches for the benefit of outsiders. Don’t Bill and Melinda realize that such colonialism is no longer in fashion? It’s time to support African farmers’ self-determination.”
According to Mathew Holehouse in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper (here), former UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson will this week accuse the European Union and Greenpeace of condemning people in the developing world to death by refusing to accept genetically modified crops. Speaking in Pretoria, South Africa, on Tuesday, Paterson will warn that a food revolution that could save Africa from hunger is being held back and that the world is on the cusp of a green revolution, of the kind that fed a billion people in the 1960s and 1970s as the world’s population soared.
"This is also a time, however, of great mischief, in which many individuals and even governments are turning their backs on progress. Not since the original Luddites smashed cotton mill machinery in early 19th century England, have we seen such an organised, fanatical antagonism to progress and science. These enemies of the Green Revolution call themselves ‘progressive’, but their agenda could hardly be more backward-looking and regressive… their policies would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. And their insistence on mandating primitive, inefficient farming techniques would decimate the earth’s remaining wild spaces, devastate species and biodiversity, and leave our natural ecology poorer as a result.”
“We don’t have a goal of developing GM products here or to import them. We can feed ourselves with normal, common, not genetically modified products. If the Americans like to eat such products, let them eat them. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.” (see here)
“We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial to us. We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.”
“… the statements that they [supporters of GMOs] use such as “thousands die of hunger daily in India” are irresponsible and baseless scare-mongering with a view to projecting GM as the only answer. When our people go hungry, or suffer from malnutrition, it is not for lack of food, it is because their right to safe and nutritious food that is culturally connected has been blocked. That is why it is not a technological fix problem and GM has no place in it.”
“The problem is that the poor have no money to buy food and increasingly, no access to land on which to grow it… GM is a dangerous distraction from real solutions and claims that GM can help feed the world can be viewed as exploitation of the suffering of the hungry. GM crops do not increase yield. Nor are there any GM crops that are better than non-GM crops at tolerating poor soils or challenging climate conditions. Thus it is difficult to see how GM can contribute to solving world hunger… The two major GM crops, soy and maize, mostly go into animal feed for intensive livestock operations, biofuels to power cars, and processed human food – products for wealthy nations that have nothing to do with meeting the basic food needs of the poor and hungry.”
"In the morning, you make porridge from maize and send the kids to school. For lunch, boiled maize and a few green beans. In the evening, ugali, [a staple dough-like maize dish, served with meat]… [today] it’s a monoculture diet, being driven by the food system – it’s an injustice.” (see here and here for the sources that quote Maingi and other commentators mentioned below).
“It’s a system designed to benefit agribusinesses and not small-scale farmers.”
“What the World Bank has done, the International Monetary fund, what AGRA and Bill Gates are doing, it’s actually pretty wrong. The farmer himself should not be starving”.
“… take capitalism and business out of farming in Africa. The West should invest in indigenous knowledge and agro-ecology, education and infrastructure and stand in solidarity with the food sovereignty movement.” Daniel Maingi, Growth Partners for Africa.
“The “economic therapy” imposed under IMF-World Bank jurisdiction is in large part responsible for triggering famine and social devastation in Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, wreaking the peasant economy and impoverishing millions of people. With the complicity of branches of the US government, it has also opened the door for the appropriation of traditional seeds and landraces by US biotech corporations, which behind the scenes have been peddling the adoption of their own genetically modified seeds under the disguise of emergency aid and famine relief. Moreover, under WTO rules, the agri-biotech conglomerates can manipulate market forces to their advantage as well as exact royalties from farmers. The WTO provides legitimacy to the food giants to dismantle State programmes including emergency grain stocks, seed banks, extension services and agricultural credit, etc.), plunder peasant economies and trigger the outbreak of periodic famines.” See the full article (‘Sowing the Seeds of Famine in Ethiopia’) from which this extract is taken here.
Climate disruption and population growth are increasing the pressures on food supply. The challenge is to get more from existing land in a sustainable way, or people will go unfed.”
“We should have confidence in the scientific evidence which concludes that, when properly controlled, GM products are as safe as their conventional counterparts.”
Genetic scientist Jonathan Jones has weighed in by claiming:
“How anyone could think this is a bad thing boggles the mind. We need to better explain that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the GM method.”
"By no stretch of the imagination can these people be described as independent scientists. Their views should be treated with the same scepticism we would apply to any sales pitch."
"A group of scientists with financial interests in the success of GM wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in November, but waited four months to tell the press about it: just in time for EU discussions about regulation. Something certainly smells a bit fishy."
"This extraordinary report, published very conveniently to coincide with Owen Paterson’s attempts within the EU to dismantle GM regulations and to repatriate powers to the
, is in turns naive, biased, disingenuous, cynical, and downright dangerous. We find it incredible that five senior scientists can have been so dismissive of the work of scores of independent scientists who have discovered that GM organisms are directly and indirectly harmful to mammals and to the environment. In the world of science there should be respect for those whose findings are 'inconvenient." UK
"They are not employed by government or industry, and each works for different publicly funded universities and research institutes. For better or worse, it’s not unusual any more for universities and institutions to get bits and pieces of funding from government, charities and industry – indeed many can only access public money on condition that they raise a proportion of their funds from commercial or private sources. This does not automatically undermine their independence."
"It’s really just not good enough for a group of scientists who have a strong interest, it seems, through their funding sources, in persuading a reluctant public to accept the growing of GM crops in the UK, to be the ones who attempt to write the rule book on how that should happen."
In 2013, the Indian defence budget formed over ten percent of total government expenditure. It has been for many years the world’s largest market for imported arms. In 2000,
Apart from ongoing violent conflicts in the ‘tribal belt’ and elsewhere, there is the continuing all pervasive structural violence of crony capitalism, corruption, ‘globalisation’ and neo-liberalism, which has, among other atrocities, resulted in up to 300,000 farmer suicides and India having over one-third of the poorest people in the world and the world’s largest number of children suffering from malnutrition (6).
There are people who want to do us harm. We need to be protected. There are extremists and wrong doers who want to bend the system for their own narrow agendas against the interests of the many. There always has been. Unfortunately, they have hijacked the machinery of state(s) and are increasingly to be found in positions of authority implementing surveillance and economic terrorism ‘for our own good’.
The Market Oracle, Global Research and Countercurrents 8/1/2014
British Chancellor George Osborne this week announced massive cuts of £25 billion after 2015. This included further welfare cuts of £12bn. Osbourne said that 2014 would be a year of hard truths. He claimed that his economic policies were working, but admitted that the bad news is there's still a long way to go.
"We understood the Conservative government's determination to use the state machine against us. In order to dismember the welfare state, they had to break the trade union movement and they needed to break the miners first."
"Osborne is busy lining the pockets of the people at the top of the pile."
Consider, for example, the circumstances that led to open war in Vietnam. According to official history, two US destroyers patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam were victims of unprovoked attacks in August 1964, leading to a congressional resolution giving President Johnson the power "to take all necessary measures."
Posted on Oct 17, 2013
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch
This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.
For years, energy analysts had been anticipating an imminent decline in global oil supplies. Suddenly, they’re singing a new song: Fossil fuels growing scarce? Don’t even think about it! The news couldn’t be better: fossil fuels will become ever more abundant. And all that talk about climate change? Don’t worry about it, they chant. Go out and enjoy the benefits of cheap and plentiful energy forever.
This movement from gloom about our energy future to what can only be called fossil-fuel euphoria may prove to be the hallmark of our peculiar moment. In a speech this September, for instance, Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission (that state’s energy regulatory agency), claimed that the Earth possesses a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and natural gas. Not only that—and you can practically hear the chorus of cheering in Houston and other oil centers—but many of the most exploitable new deposits are located in the U.S. and Canada. As a result—add a roll of drums and a blaring of trumpets—the expected boost in energy is predicted to provide the United States with a cornucopia of economic and political rewards, including industrial expansion at home and enhanced geopolitical clout abroad. The country, exulted Karen Moreau of the New York State Petroleum Council, another industry cheerleader, is now in a position “to become a global superpower on energy.”
There are good reasons to be deeply skeptical of such claims, but that hardly matters when they are gaining traction in Washington and on Wall Street. What we’re seeing is a sea change in elite thinking on the future availability and attractiveness of fossil fuels. Senior government officials, including President Obama, have already become infected with this euphoria, as have top Wall Street investors—which means it will have a powerful and longlasting, though largely pernicious, effect on the country’s energy policy, industrial development, and foreign relations.
The speed and magnitude of this shift in thinking has been little short of astonishing. Just a few years ago, we were girding for the imminent prospect of “peak oil,” the point at which daily worldwide output would reach its maximum and begin an irreversible decline. This, experts assumed, would result in a global energy crisis, sky-high oil prices, and severe disruptions to the world economy.
Today, peak oil seems a distant will-o’-the-wisp. Experts at the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) confidently project that global oil output will reach 115 million barrels per day by 2040—a stunning 34% increase above the current level of 86 million barrels. Natural gas production is expected to soar as well, leaping from 113 trillion cubic feet in 2010 to a projected 185 trillion in 2040.
These rosy assessments rest to a surprising extent on a single key assumption: that the United States, until recently a declining energy producer, will experience a sharp increase in output through the exploitation of shale oil and natural gas reserves through hydro-fracking and other technological innovations. “In a matter of a few years, the trends have reversed,” Moreau declared last February. “There is a new energy reality of vast domestic resources of oil and natural gas brought about by advancing technology… For the first time in generations, we are able to see that our energy supply is no longer limited, foreign, and finite; it is American and abundant.”
The boost in domestic oil and gas output, it is further claimed, will fuel an industrial renaissance in the United States—with new plants and factories being built to take advantage of abundant local low-cost energy supplies. “The economic consequences of this supply-and-demand revolution are potentially extraordinary,” asserted Ed Morse, the head of global commodities research at Citigroup in New York. America’s gross domestic product, he claimed, will grow by 2% to 3% over the next seven years as a result of the energy revolution alone, adding as much as $624 billion to the national economy. Even greater gains can be made, Morse and others claim, if the U.S. becomes a significant exporter of fossil fuels, particularly in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Not only will these developments result in added jobs—as many as three million, claims energy analyst Daniel Yergin—but they will also enhance America’s economic status vis-à-vis its competitors. “U.S. natural gas is abundant and prices are low—a third of their level in Europe and a quarter of that in Japan,” Yergin wrote recently. “This is boosting energy-intensive manufacturing in the U.S., much to the dismay of competitors in both Europe and Asia.”
This fossil fuel euphoria has even surfaced in statements by President Obama. For all his talk of climate change perils and the need to invest in renewables, he has also gloated over the jump in domestic energy production and promised to facilitate further increases. “Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003,” he affirmed in March 2011. “And for the first time in more than a decade, oil we imported accounted for less than half of the liquid fuel we consumed. So that was a good trend. To keep reducing that reliance on imports, my administration is encouraging offshore oil exploration and production.”
Money Pouring into Fossil Fuels
This burst of euphoria about fossil fuels and America’s energy future is guaranteed to have a disastrous impact on the planet. In the long term, it will make Earth a hotter, far more extreme place to live by vastly increasing carbon emissions and diverting investment funds from renewables and green energy to new fossil fuel projects. For all the excitement these endeavors may be generating, it hardly takes a genius to see that they mean ever more carbon dioxide heading into the atmosphere and an ever less hospitable planet.
The preference for fossil fuel investments is easy to spot in the industry’s trade journals, as well as in recent statistical data and anecdotal reports of all sorts. According to the reliable International Energy Agency (IEA), private and public investment in fossil fuel projects over the next quarter century will outpace investment in renewable energy by a ratio of three to one. In other words, for every dollar spent on new wind farms, solar arrays, and tidal power research, three dollars will go into the development of new oil fields, shale gas operations, and coal mines.
From industry sources it’s clear that big-money investors are rushing to take advantage of the current boom in unconventional energy output in the U.S.—the climate be damned. “The dollars needed [to develop such projects] have never been larger,” commented Maynard Holt, co-president of Houston-based investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Company. “But the money is truly out there. The global energy capital river is flowing our way.”
In the either/or equation that seems to be our energy future, the capital river is rushing into the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, while it’s slowing to a trickle in the world of the true unconventionals—the energy sources that don’t add carbon to the atmosphere. This, indeed, was the conclusion reached by the IEA, which in 2012 warned that the seemingly inexorable growth in greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide is likely to eliminate all prospect of averting the worst effects of climate change.
The new energy euphoria is also fueling a growing sense that the American superpower, whose influence has recently seemed to be on the wane, may soon acquire fresh geopolitical clout through its mastery of the latest energy technologies. “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength,” crowed National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in an April address at Columbia University. Increased domestic energy output, he explained, will help reduce U.S. vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price hikes. “It also affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”
A new elite consensus is forming around the strategic advantages of expanded oil and gas production. In particular, this outlook holds that the U.S. is benefiting from substantially reduced oil imports from the Middle East by eliminating a dependency that has led to several disastrous interventions in that region and exposed the country to periodic disruptions in oil deliveries, starting with the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. “The shift in oil sources means the global supply system will become more resilient, our energy supplies will become more secure, and the nation will have more flexibility in dealing with crises,” Yergin wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
This turnaround, he and other experts claim, is what allowed Washington to adopt a tougher stance with Tehran in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. With the U.S. less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, so goes the argument, American leaders need not fear Iranian threats to disrupt the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf to international markets. “The substantial increase in oil production in the United States,” Donilon declared in April, is what allowed Washington to impose tough sanctions on Iranian oil “while minimizing the burdens on the rest of the world.”
A stance of what could be called petro machismo is growing in Washington, underlying such initiatives as the president’s widely ballyhooed policy announcement of a “pivot” from the Middle East to Asia (still largely words backed by only the most modest of actions) and efforts to constrain Russia’s international influence.
Ever since Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency of that country, Moscow has sought to sway the behavior of its former Warsaw Pact allies and the former republics of the Soviet Union by exploiting its dominant energy role in the region. It offered cheap natural gas to governments willing to follow its policy dictates, while threatening to cut off supplies to those that weren’t. Now, some American strategists hope to reduce Russia’s clout by helping friendly nations like Poland and the Baltic states develop their own shale gas reserves and build LNG terminals. These would allow them to import gas from “friendly” states, including the U.S. (once its LNG export capacities are expanded). “If we can export some natural gas to Europe and to Japan and other Asian nations,” Karen Moreau suggested in February, “we strengthen our relationships and influence in those places—and perhaps reduce the influence of other producers such as Russia.”
The crucial issue is this: if American elites continue to believe that increased oil and gas production will provide the U.S. with a strategic advantage, Washington will be tempted to exercise a “stronger hand” when pursuing its “international security goals.” The result will undoubtedly be heightened international friction and discord.
Is the Euphoria Justified?
There is no doubt that the present fossil fuel euphoria will lead in troubling directions, even if the rosy predictions of rising energy output are, in the long run, likely to prove both unreliable and unrealistic. The petro machismo types make several interconnected claims:
* The world’s fossil fuel reserves are vast, especially when “unconventional” sources of fuel—Canadian tar sands, shale gas, and the like—are included.
* The utilization of advanced technologies, especially fracking, will permit the effective exploitation of a significant share of these untapped reserves (assuming that governments don’t restrict fracking and other controversial drilling activities).
* Fossil fuels will continue to supply an enormous share of global energy requirements for the foreseeable future, even given rising world temperatures, growing public opposition, and other challenges.
Each of these assertions is packed with unacknowledged questions and improbabilities that are impossible to explore thoroughly in an article of this length. But here are some major areas of doubt.
To begin with, those virtually “boundless” untapped oil reserves have yet to be systematically explored, meaning that it’s impossible to know if they do, in fact, contain commercially significant reserves of oil and gas. To offer an apt example, the U.S. Geological Survey, in one of the most widely cited estimates of untapped energy reserves, has reported that approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% percent of its natural gas lie above the Arctic Circle. But this assessment is based on geological analyses of rock samples, not exploratory drilling. Whether the area actually holds such large reserves will not be known until widespread drilling has occurred. So far, initial Arctic drilling operations, like those off Greenland, have generally proved disappointing.
Similarly, the Energy Information Administration has reported that China possesses vast shale formations that could harbor substantial reserves of oil and gas. According to a 2013 EIA survey, that country’s technically recoverable shale gas reserves are estimated at 1,275 trillion cubic feet, more than twice the figure for the United States. Once again, however, the real extent of those reserves won’t be known without extensive drilling, which is only in its beginning stages.
To say, then, that global reserves are “boundless” is to disguise all the hypotheticals lurking within that description. Reality may fall far short of industry claims.
The effectiveness of new technologies in exploiting such problematic reserves is also open to question. True, fracking and other unconventional technologies have already substantially increased the production of hard-to-exploit fuels, including tar sands, shale gas, and deep-sea reserves. Many experts predict that such gains are likely to be repeated in the future. The EIA, for example, suggests that U.S. output of shale oil via fracking will jump by 221% over the next 15 years, and natural gas by 164%. The big question, however, is whether these projected increases will actually come to fruition. While early gains are likely, the odds are that future growth will come at a far slower pace.
As a start, the most lucrative U.S. shale formations in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Texas have already experienced substantial exploration and many of the most attractive drilling sites (or “plays”) are now fully developed. More fracking, no doubt, will release additional oil and gas, but the record shows that fossil-fuel output tends to decline once the earliest, most promising reservoirs are exploited. In fact, notes energy analyst Art Berman, “several of the more mature shale gas plays are either in decline or appear to be approaching peak production.”
Doubts are also multiplying over the potential for exploiting shale reserves in other parts of the world. Preliminary drilling suggests that many of the shale formations in Europe and China possess fewer hydrocarbons and will be harder to develop than those now being exploited in this country. In Poland, for example, efforts to extract domestic shale reserves have been stymied by disappointing drilling efforts and the subsequent departure of major foreign firms, including Exxon Mobil and Marathon Oil.
Finally, there is a crucial but difficult to assess factor in the future energy equation: the degree to which energy companies and energy states will run into resistance when exploiting ever more remote (and environmentally sensitive) resource zones. No one yet knows how much energy industry efforts may be constrained by the growing opposition of local residents, scientists, environmentalists, and others who worry about the environmental degradation caused by unconventional energy extraction and the climate consequences of rising fossil fuel combustion. Despite industry claims that fracking, tar sands production, and Arctic drilling can be performed without endangering local residents, harming the environment, or wrecking the planet, ever more people are coming to the opposite conclusion—and beginning to take steps to protect their perceived interests.
In New York State, for example, a fervent anti-fracking oppositional movement has prevented government officials from allowing such activities to begin in the rich Marcellus shale formation, one of the largest in the world. Although Albany may, in time, allow limited fracking operations there, it is unlikely to permit large-scale drilling throughout the state. Similarly, an impressive opposition in British Columbia to the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, especially by the native peoples of the region, has put that project on indefinite hold. And growing popular opposition to fracking in Europe is making itself felt across the region. The European Parliament, for example, recently imposed tough environmental constraints on the practice.
As heat waves and extreme storm activity increase, so will concern over climate change and opposition to wholesale fossil fuel extraction. The IEA warned of this possibility in the 2012 edition of its World Energy Outlook. Shale gas and other unconventional forms of natural gas are predicted to provide nearly half the net gain in world gas output over the next 25 years, the report noted. “There are,” it added, “also concerns about the environmental impact of producing unconventional gas that, if not properly addressed, could halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks.”
Reaction to that IEA report last November was revealing. Its release prompted a mini-wave of ecstatic commentary in the American media about its prediction that, thanks to the explosion in unconventional energy output, this country would soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer. In fact, the fossil fuel craze can be said to have started with this claim. None of the hundreds of articles and editorials written on the subject, however, bothered to discuss the caveats the report offered or its warnings of planetary catastrophe.
As is so often the case with mass delusions, those caught up in fossil fuel mania have not bothered to think through the grim realities involved. While industry bigwigs may continue to remain on an energy high, the rest of us will not be so lucky. The accelerated production and combustion of fossil fuels can have only one outcome: a severely imperiled planet.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (Picador). A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.
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Copyright 2013 Michael T. Klare