Monday, March 5, 2012

F. William Engdahl "The New Mediterranean Oil and Gas Bonanza"

Recently, economic researcher and historian F. William Engdahl published a two part report (Israel's Levant Basin: a new Geological Curse? (2/19/12), Rising Energy Tensions in the Aegean: Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria (3/3/12)) detailing the massive new hydrocarbon discoveries that have been made in the Levantine Basin of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  While his report was circulated among internet publishishers like the Canadian "Center for Research on Globalization" and the French "Voltaire Network," as well as picked up by RT, Russia's english language satellite television network, no U.S. mainstream news network has touched Engdahl's work, or even approached the subject it deals with.  In all of 2010 and 2011, while the "Arab Spring" was engulfing the eastern Mediterranean, the New York Times published only three articles (one on 8/20/10, one on 12/30/10, and one on 7/10/11) that mentioned the massive energy reserves being discovered just offshore.  The Washington Post also published only three mentions of the discoveries, all of them in 2010.  This virtual blackballing of the subject by the two papers make it apparent that for the American people, oil politics and the "Arab Spring" were not to be associated with each other.  This makes tantamount the importance of scholars seeing through the blur of Wurlitzer narratives and understanding the real developments that have been taking place in the Middle East over the past year.

Engdahl's report states:

In October 2010 Israel discovered a massive “super-giant” gas field offshore in what it declares is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The find is some 84 miles west of the Haifa port and three miles deep. They named it Leviathan after the Biblical sea monster. Three Israeli energy companies in cooperation with the Houston Texas Noble Energy announced initial estimates that the field contained 16 trillion cubic feet of gas—making it the world’s biggest deep-water gas find in a decade, adding more discredit to “peak oil” theories that the planet is about to see dramatic and permanent shortages of oil, gas and coal. To put the number in perspective, that one gas field, Leviathan, would hold enough reserves to supply Israel’s gas needs for 100 years.

The story of this "game-changer," as he calls it, began in 2009, when Noble Energy, which employs as a lobbyyist Bill Clinton, discovered the Tamar field 50 miles west of Haifa, estimated to contained 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas, making it the biggest gas discovery of 2009. This discovery, and the speculation that it may have just been the tip of the energy iceberg, prompted the U.S. government to carry out its first ever energy survey of the Levantine Basin, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey at the Department of the Interior. Their findings, released in April 2010, were breathtaking, estimating that the basin held 122 tcf of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil. Brenda Peirce, a program coordinator for the Geological Survey, stated at its release: "The Levant Basin Province is comparable to some of the other large provinces around the world and its gas resources are bigger than anything we have assessed in the United States."
    Months later came the discovery of the Leviathan field, and suddenly the Eastern Mediterranean was awash in the problems that follow being deemed the next energy El Dorado.  Lebanon put in a claim to the UN that part of Israel's new discoveries sat in Lebanese territorial waters, within their Exclusive Economic Zone.  And Obama's White House, perpetually ticked off at Israel's intransigent right-wing leadership, reportedly endorsed the Lebanese claim, sending State Department Envoy Frederic C. Hof on a round of shuttle diplomacy between Beirut and Jerusalem to help negotiate the issue.
      Israel's finds also led other countries in the region to explore their waters for untapped hydrocarbon deposits, and as Engdahl writes, "Preliminary exploration has confirmed similarly impressive reserves of gas and oil in the waters off Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and potentially, Syria."  
     Greece made the most significant discoveries, with preliminary estimates putting the Ionian Sea, to the west of Greece, as containing 22 billion barrels, and the Aegean Sea, to the north, at 4 billion barrels, with the Southern Aegean Sea and the Cretan Sea yet to even be explored.  Greece's economy, however, is getting in the way of Greek people prospering off these finds.  While much of the exploration was done prior to the Greek debt crisis coming into full swing, the international financiers of the EU and Wall Street are now demanding that Greece impose strict austerity policies that slash government spending and privatize state industries, like ports and oil companies, making it impossible for the Greek government to use their new found energy wealth to pay off the debt.  Engdahl writes:
Tulane University oil expert David Hynes told an audience in Athens recently that Greece could potentially solve its entire public debt crisis through development of its new-found gas and oil. He conservatively estimates that exploitation of the reserves already discovered could bring the country more than €302 billion over 25 years. The Greek government instead has just been forced to agree to huge government layoffs, wage cuts and pension cuts to get access to a second EU and IMF loan that will only drive the country deeper into an economic decline...Notably, the IMF and EU governments, among them Germany, demand instead that Greece sell off its valuable ports and public companies, among them of course, Greek state oil companies, to reduce state debt. Under the best of conditions the asset selloffs would bring the country perhaps €50 billion.  Plans call for the Greek state-owned natural gas company, DEPA, to privatize 65% of its shares to reduce debt.  Buyers would likely come from outside the country, as few Greek companies are in a position in the crisis to take it.

Engdahl also reports that the U.S. State Department has not been a neutral player in regards to Greek energy deposits. He notes a July 2011 trip taken to Greece by Secretary Clinton, where she was accompanied by Richard Morningstar, a special envoy for Eurasian Energy. Morningstar made his name during the Clinton Administration, when he was an advisor to the President on Caspian energy issues, where the name of the game was a zero-sum pipeline race between the U.S. and Russia for control and transportation of oil and gas deposits. Engdahl describes Morningstar as "the U.S. specialist in economic warfare against Russian energy diplomacy," and his presence with Secretary Clinton at Greek negotiations signals that the U.S. is intent on Western companies being able to benefit from Greek oil. Engdahl quotes an independent Greek analyst Aristotle Vassilakas as saying the U.S. plan is for Greece to join forces with Turkey on oil and gas, "to force a formula to divide resulting oil and gas revenues. According to his report, Washington proposes that Greece get 20% of revenues, Turkey another 20% and the US-backed Noble Energy Company of Houston Texas, the company successfully drilling in the Israeli and Greek offshore waters, would get the lion’s share of 60%."
    Adding on to the Greek complications is the presence of oil, also found by Noble energy, off the island of Cyprus, which is divided between an ethnically Turkish north and an ethnically Greek south, the Republic of Cyprus, which belongs to the EU.  It is off the waters of southern Cyprus that the deposits were found, where President Christofias leads the Republic as the only communist in the EU, holding close ties to Israel and Russia, while being critical of Turkish and American policy.  Recently, Israel agreed to an underwater pipeline deal that would stretch across the waters of the Republic of Cyprus to the Greecian mainland, where it would reach the EU market.  Turkey, which was left out of these negotiations entirely, was fuming at the deal. 

      These new-found oil deposits go hand in hand with NATO's policy to militarize the Mediterranean. Investigative journalist Russ Baker, writing on the recent Libyan war, brings up the "Mediterranean Union" proposed in 2007 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which would link the 15 states bordering the Sea to the EU's 27 members. He invited all EU head's of state and 17 non-EU heads of state to a Paris summit in July 2008, however one voice stood out as distinctly critical of the plan, Libya's Gaddafi. Speaking prior to the conference, he stated, "We shall have another Roman empire and imperialist design. There are imperialist maps and designs that have already been rolled up. We should not have them again." Gaddafi was upset at the inclusion of Israel and the greater EU in the plan, saying, "we Arabs have not been able to unite together. How can we have a union with Scotland or Scandinavia or Israel?"
      The US has also upped NATO member Turkey's role in the military architecture of the region by placing radar systems for its long planned Eurasian Missile Defense Shield in the east of the country.  The radar, agreed to in September 2011 and made operational in January 2012, was described by a senior White House official as "the biggest strategic decision between Turkey and the U.S. in 15 or 20 years." Located in the town of Malatya, 300 miles south-east of Ankara, the radar is manned by American and Turkish forces, but controlled from an American base in Germany.  It will transmit data to Naval forces throughout the region, as well as U.S. command posts worldwide.  
       Although the  shield has a stated goal of containing the threat of Iranian attacks, Russia sees itself as being in the cross-hairs of the Western missile batteries, which are creeping ever closer to its borders.  Russia's only Naval station in the Mediterranean is located in Syria, which is enflamed in conflict with Western calls en-masse for the Assad government to get out.  Moscow does not want to lose its influence and stake in the region, and sees the United States as trying to create a "unipolar world," as Vladimar Putin told the Munich Security Conference in 2006. 

     The current combination of new oil discoveries and unstable governments that exists in the Eastern Mediterranean is very similar to the Caspian Basin in the 1990's, referred to as a "New Great Game."  This period was recently brought up by the House of Windsor's Prince Andrew in State Department cables released by Wikileaks.  In a cable following a October 2008 meeting between the Duke of York and U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgzstan Tatiana Gfoeller, it was written

Addressing the Ambassador directly, Prince Andrew then turned to regional politics. He stated baldly that "the United Kingdom, Western Europe (and by extension you Americans too") were now back in the thick of playing the Great Game. More animated than ever, he stated cockily: "And this time we aim to win!" 
The mindset of this game necessities that when new energy deposits are discovered, U.S. officials and businessmen begin to see the region as simply a pool of oil that must be secured. What goes out the window is consideration of values like human rights and economic development, and governments are judged solely on their willingness to put up with the Washington Agenda.  This is why a brutal dictatorship in Uzbekistan is propped up and dissident leaders in Libya are toppled, why Greek oil wealth cannot be used to pay off Greek debt.  The American military mission has become intertwined with the activities of Western energy corporations, and as such energy and military policy are formed concurrently.
     Moreover, both energy and security are thought of, in the councils of the National Security State, as a zero-sum geopolitical competition with other great powers like Russia and China (and Iran, to a lesser extent).  But whereas back in the 1990s Russia had not yet recovered from the collapsed Soviet economy and held very few bargaining chips within their former sphere of influence, now the Russian Bear has its strength back and is building ties with China and other powers, most notably through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Will Moscow exert its regional influence and hold back the West in its pursuit and control of the Mediteranean and Southwest Asia?  Syria will be one crucial testing-case.  The longer Russia and China can weather the rhetoric being pushed by Western leaders and keep up their support of Assad, the longer they can cast condescending smiles at NATO's recent Mediterranean intervention experiment, leaving the entire line-up of Western leaders with egg on their face for insisting that Assad must step down, and then not having the ability to make it happen.  Will this stand in the Western corridors of power, drenched in the scent of newly discovered petroleum?  It is an important question, and one on which may tilt another World War.  

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