Oil: Extract up your own
By Reza Fiyouzat
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 11, 2008, 00:22
It is customary to run into brazenly racist commentary
coming out of the U.S. liberals and right-wingers alike, especially when it
comes to the question of oil. Besides the occasional surreal headlines about congressional
members suing OPEC, it is normal to read headlines urging OPEC member
countries to increase production. It is as if we were at a restaurant, trying
to get more service. 'Hey waiter! More drinks over here!'
The more liberal ones, of course, take it to another level.
In the context of 'oil shortages,' when the right wingers assert that more
internal exploration/extraction is needed, the inevitable liberal knee-jerk
reaction is, 'Of course not! Leave our wildlife alone!'
Shocking bulletin to Western 'environmentalists': 'Oil
Producing' countries too have environments.
As it relates to the issue of oil, there is proliferation of
a language and mentality that is racist to the core. The two variations,
militarism and capitalistically defined 'environmentalism,' are espoused by the
right and the liberal wings respectively. The line of thinking starts out with
something like this: Those damned A-rabs (say, Saudis) are holding us hostage
(or, insert any other OPEC member the State Dept. and media lackeys are
bullying that day); and concludes with: So, we must reduce our dependence on
foreign oil (with the adjective 'foreign' intoning a four-letter word). By all
But . . . hostage to what? Hostage to our needs; hostage to
our way of life. That's about the gist of it. The attitude is as narcissistic
as it is racist.
Is there a
A component of the liberal racist argument is the
quantitative comparisons of proven worldwide oil reserves. In an inverse
pissing game, they paint a picture of an abundance of oil those, say, Saudis
are 'sitting on' (260 billion barrels), compared to the measly sum available
beneath the U.S. (a mere 21 billion; weep, weep!). This '21 billion barrels' is
the figure usually given for the amount of oil available in the U.S.; Wikipedia
gives this number, as do numerous mainstream and even some leftist journalists
and writers. However, this is an erroneous figure.
According to a
report prepared by the Dept of Interior for the U.S. Congress, dated
February 2006, the amount of actually recoverable oil available to the U.S.
exploiters is more than five times the 'official' 21 billion barrels. "The
total endowment of technically recoverable oil and gas on the [U.S. Outer
Continental Shelf] is comprised of known resources -- i.e., cumulative
production, and estimates of remaining proved and unproved reserves and
reserves appreciation -- plus estimates of undiscovered resources. The estimate
of the total hydrocarbon endowment . . . is
115.4 billion barrels of oil (Bbo) and 633.6 trillion cubic feet of
gas." [From the Executive Summary,
p. vi-vii, emphasis added.]
For comparison, the current
proven reserves the Iraqis are 'sitting on' is likewise 115 Bbo.
Additionally, according to a
2004 report prepared by the Dept of Energy's Office of Naval Petroleum and
Oil Shale Reserves, "The vast extent of U.S. oil shale resources,
amounting to more than 2 trillion
barrels, has been known for a century. [ . . . ] The huge resource base has
stimulated several prior commercial attempts to produce oil from oil shale, but
these attempts have failed primarily because of the historically modest cost of
petroleum with which it competed. With the expected future decline in petroleum
production historic market forces are poised to change and this change will
improve the economic viability of oil shale." [Emphasis added.] The market
forces clearly are a-changing, so shale oil is no longer such an uneconomic
energy source after all.
There are therefore vast
amounts of available oil that consumers in the U.S. can start tapping into,
thereby cutting their urge to wage wars of possession for energy resources of
others. As you see, you do have your own oil, and lots of it, too. Just dig it
So, why is all this oil kept underground? As relates to oil,
what are the strategic interests of the U.S. ruling classes? The view from the
Third World is not complicated. The good singer once sang: God blessed the
child who's got his own. Well, the U.S. ruling classes sure have got their own,
but what they really want is to keep
their own. And the reason for that is: If the resources of other societies in
the periphery are depleted first, the center can continue to hold its central
place, strategically. It is really very simple.
Other understated facts:
countries produce 60 percent of the oil available on the world market.
Canada, for example, is the biggest
exporter of oil to the U.S. Yet, do you ever read any headlines demanding
the Canadians increase their oil production, or threatening to sue Canada for
withholding higher levels of oil production and driving up the prices? Not very
2) The real demand for oil has not increased at the same
rate (or, in proportional percentages) as the increases in oil prices. Even
given the increased demand (due to 'insatiable appetites' of the economies of
India and China), surely the global gross
output of products cannot have jumped by so much as to explain the rate of
the increases in oil prices. The world
aggregate production is the key, not merely the Chinese and Indian GNP
growth. The production sites for specific commodities may have changed
locations, hence the increase in demand for oil in some locations, but the
world capitalist system as a whole has not increased its production levels by
an amount that can explain the rise in energy costs.
3) Most oil companies secure their inventories through
long-term contracts, such as five, 10- to 30-year contracts, and at set prices.
This means that the handful of monopolies that control about 70-80 percent or
more of the distribution networks (the key element in control of oil prices)
are getting their supplies mostly at prices set 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.
From the above, you can easily guess what shall be
concluded: the oil price rises are a classic, right out of the playbook,
Smile for the cameras, you've been had!
But what really and truly
tortures millions like me is the racism in not seeing the adverse environmental
effects of oil exploration/extraction in Third World countries, particularly in
the Middle East.
Since the Americans do have
their own oil to the same extent that the Iraqis have their own, why is it that
oil companies don't extract that oil? Environmental laws? Well, again, other
people too have environments. You've destroyed theirs for about the past one
hundred years, why not carefully and selectively disturb some of yours for the
next century? Why are environmental concerns deemed so supreme in some
habitats, and not relevant at all in other habitats? Do Western
environmentalists believe that the 'environment' stops at their national
The mass media, such as TV, is
a good indicator of how the popular imagination is shaped. As regards reporting
on environmental concerns of the lesser peoples, the singular instance of
'coverage' of such issues that comes to mind is when the corporate media in the
U.S. was particularly concerned about the effects of the Iraqi oil dumped into
the Persian Gulf by Saddam Hussein; showing us what a horrible monster Saddam
was, dousing those poor birds! (Or, was the real outrage over all the oil not
directed into engines?)
Since very little else is
reported, we must assume that all the daily drillings and extractions going
back a century; the fumes and the poisonous discharge from the wells and from
the refineries and petrochemical plants lining the waterways of the Gulf; all
the thousands of oil tankers, cargo ships and aircraft carriers -- all that
activity must be causing a lively proliferation of the most magnificent array
of wildlife in the Gulf!
All manner of colonial carving up of our region has taken
place over the last century. Vast amounts of wealth have been outright stolen
from our societies. Just for one count, in 1901, William D'Arcy, a
"millionaire London socialite" (according to Wikipedia), negotiated
an oil concession that basically gave him the rights to explore, extract and
take out whatever amount of oil he liked, from anywhere in Iran. Not bad. He
extracted this 'concession' from a hugely corrupt, unpopular and in fact
illegitimate absolutist monarch on his way out.
Under the auspices of the said 'concession', the British oil
giant BP got its start; back then it was called Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and
it made the first discovery of vast oil fields in 1908 in Masjed Soleiman,
southwest of Iran. For the next 40-some years, this oil company was getting its
oil supplies (with only a slight exaggeration) mostly for free. That's the way
you do it, not through the 'free market'! Money for nothing!
[Incidentally, the Iranian government would get itself a
world of good publicity internationally and domestically if it stopped pursuing
nuclear technology (which only introduces into our people's environment the
most noxious toxins, capable of extreme radioactive toxicity for thousands of
years, in the best case scenario),
and instead pursued an actionable lawsuit against BP for historical
So, in lay language, we in the Middle East have been bucked
again and again and again, in one form or another, for the past one hundred
years. And all that, for what? For oil. And for all those one hundred years,
our environments have been subjected to all those nasty damages that make
American environmentalists cringe when any mention is made of drilling for oil
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Isn't one hundred years enough?
Here is another angle on the environmental nightmares people
in the Middle East are currently subjected to, as a result of the American Way
of Life: Uranium-enriched munitions used in the war of aggression against the
Afghans and the Iraqis alike.
The U.S. Dept of Justice accused, jailed and tortured Jose
Padilla until he went insane, for a probable fleeting thought at which he may
have smiled, about possibly it would maybe not be such an evil and insane idea
after all, in a hypothetical kind of way of conjuring a fantasy, that maybe if
some asshole found a way of letting off a 'dirty bomb' . . . you know . . . What
would it be like?
So, setting off dirty, radioactive bombs (even the thought
of it) is very bad, a supreme crime even, right?
Well then, why is it that these same high-ranking
authorities, along with thousands of other co-conspirators are in the open and
official business of enabling and facilitating the obliteration of Iraq's and
Afghanistan's environments with hundreds (by now perhaps thousands) of tons of
radioactive dust produced through the use of uranium-enriched munitions, the
tips of which explode upon impact into millions of highly radioactive and
poisonous particles. These highly radioactive uranium dust particles then
either remain in the air that people breath, or enter the water they drink, or
go into the soil in which food is grown. And the half-life of uranium is four billion
Could it be that Henry Kissinger's recommendations --
regarding the imperialists' need for the elimination of billions of people in
the Third World -- are being enacted?
Peak Oil is a scam. When looked
at superficially and if one's outlook is that of the status quo, it sounds
logical: when you have a finite resource, and your way of life burns that
resource much faster than your way of life can replenish it; and once you get
past the halfway point of what remains of that resource, your access to that
resources will go into decline. Common sense enough. But, common sense is not
always the best sense. In this case, the explanation provided doesn't even add up to common sense.
Here is the real common sense,
which the Peak Oil people pass right over. If, as these good folks tell us, we
have already gone through about half of the stuff, then there is still half of
it left! The first half took us through one century, so we have about another
century to figure something out. Okay, maybe less than one century because
population has increased, world aggregate production has gone up, etc. But, in
the meantime, other technologies are being developed, too. So, why so bleak?
Even this common sense is not a
true sense. Peak Oil folks, to base their predictions of the looming doom, are
using figures that are simply not correct. The very low estimate of 21 Bbo of
available oil in the U.S. is one example. When actual figures are known, we
shall see that the protests by the Peak Oilers may have been the smoke and
mirrors necessary to actually foment more racism toward the people whose
natural resources Uncle Sam is eyeing.
Also important, the Peak Oil
people use capitalist vocabulary, while trying to shoehorn quasi-non-capitalist
semantics into those bourgeois concepts. If they were to use their vocabulary
correctly, they would say the following: The remaining oil is not as easy to
get to as was the first half, so it will not be as profitable to dig up as the first half. The resource is there;
it's just not as profitable as before.
The clear and immediate
objection, addressed particularly to the oil companies, is simple: Well, mother
fuckers, you enjoyed gluttonous, astronomical profits for an entire century,
it's time to settle for a smaller take. And that's the polite way of raising
that objection. The really rude way would be to actually do something against
the oil companies.
What the Peak Oilers never ask
is: for whom is it not profitable to extract the oil? They don't ask such
questions because of where the answer may take them. Extracting oil may not be
as profitable as before for those who seek to maximize their profits, but it can remain highly 'profitable' for a
very long time for those who are concerned with meeting a need.
Another thing Peak Oilers
forget about capitalism is that, according to capitalist logic, exactly in such
conditions as exist right now in the 'market' those who want to maximize their
profits actually have an incentive not
to extract more oil. If a commodity is precious and rising in value, you can
help the value rise further by holding onto your precious goods. It's called
hoarding; as old as capitalism.
Besides these lesser
objections, the fundamental question not addressed by Peak Oilers is ownership
relations. Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the proprietary
relationships, especially over natural resources, dictated by the capitalist
We need to change our practices
fundamentally and look at the concept of 'resource management' as one in need of
social re-solutions. For example,
let's ask naive questions: Do these privately owned corporations, five or six
of which control a majority of the vast worldwide oil resources, actually
'produce' the stuff? Of course not! They employ a bunch of available machinery
(and in a truly free market, such machinery would be available for
rent/lease/etc. to any entity) to
drill large, sometimes vertical sometimes diagonal, sometimes short sometimes
long holes that reach this resource just sitting there underground, and to get
the oil/gas out of the ground, bottle it up and present it in a form that can
be used on a daily basis. Technically speaking, any group of people with the
relevant knowledge and the necessary human-and-machine-power should be able to
gain access to this oil.
So, the relevant and truly
meaningful solutions to the riddle of oil must start out by questioning the
legitimacy of private ownership over
a natural resource that humans didn't create; i.e. over things that came with
the planet. If we accept private ownership over a natural resource such as oil,
what objection can we raise to the privatization of the air we breathe?
Even assuming that a peak has
been reached with regards to oil and we are past the 50 percent point of what
remains, our answer to those who consider the remaining oil as not profitable
is simple: by all means please step aside! We propose socializing this natural
resource and digging it up ourselves.
The end of the world as we know it? You bet!
Here is some added motivation to
go in the direction of socializing all natural resources. Some historians have
described the big shifts (or quantum leaps) in the successive hegemonic
structures of the world capitalist system as characteristically accompanied by
particular industries/capitalists taking the lead in shaping each particular
era (see, for example, Giovanni Arrighi's The
Long Twentieth Century).
One possible conclusion we can
reach concerning the current round of historical events is that those with the
greatest economic and political power to shape the next hegemonic structures
are the military-oil-finance capitalists, who are unilaterally trying to
rearrange the world into something resembling their wet dreams.
The outlines of such a possible
future (if unchallenged) are already in place: Permanent wars; the
intensification of the one-sided class warfare worldwide and at home; complete
dissolution of civil liberties; extremely heightened levels of incarceration
and proliferation of prison camps; increased poverty for increasing portions of
the human species; the eventual depletion of most major energy resources of the
Third World countries; and by the end of the process, a world fit for the
lifestyles of only the wealthiest.
As explained above, there is no
shortage of oil, and it is not disappearing that fast, and all the frenzy about
its disappearance is covering up something more sinister, especially since the
people most worried about the depletion of energy resources also have problems
with 'world population trends'; by which they mean there's too many people in
the Third World. Their rhetoric provides comfortable wind for the sails of
those who want to wage wars of possession over the resources of other peoples.
Henry Kissinger is well known
for explaining that a fundamental problem facing imperialist planners in the
U.S. is world population, particularly the Third World population. Capitalist
world system's capacity to feed and house does not cover more than an optimal
number (which number falls far below the current population levels). As this
system ages, it will be even less able to house and feed, and the leaders of
the current world system know this too well. They have peered into the future
and seen too many pissed off humans, which cannot be a pleasant prospect for
the rulers. So, dissolution has become the solution.
For a declining world power
with enough arms and weaponry to destroy the world many times over, what better
way to remain powerful than to destroy others? One way of destroying is by
bombs and bullets; and while you're at it, use uranium munitions, hence
besetting others' environments with radioactive poisonous material that burns
cancers into cells for thousands of years.
Another way to destroy others
is sucking up all their resources.
But, just as important, if not
more so, is the 'others' within: the U.S. ruling class can no longer provide
even a modicum of a half decent existence for tens of millions of the citizens
under its legal and formal jurisdiction, and the rulers have no intention of doing
anything to better people's lives. Meaning, tens of millions (and counting) of
unpleased humans live here at home. And the rulers seem to think that it will
get far worse; if the suspension of habeas
corpus is any indication.
In U.S. history, the only other
time that habeas corpus got suspended
was during the Civil War (which, incidentally, means that this time around, it
has been suspended for longer than it was during the Civil War!). In this
light, it is easy to fancy that for the ruling classes in the U.S., a civil war
is already underway. We the People have been ambushed. When will the people
fight back? That is the question.
Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at: email@example.com.
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