The American Bear


Pipelinistan | William Blum

[…] The only “necessity” that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – reportedly containing the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for such pipelines to serve much of South Asia and even parts of Europe, pipelines that – crucially – can bypass Washington’s bêtes noire, Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south.”

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the late 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions.

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels … From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks with the Taliban stalled in 2001, the Bush administration reportedly threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the Afghan government did not go along with American demands. On August 2 in Islamabad, US State Department negotiator Christine Rocca reiterated to the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef: “Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold [oil], or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.” The talks finally broke down for good a month before 9-11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war or another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-1, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be “won” short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some form of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare “victory”. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech … . It might even include the words “freedom” and “democracy”, but certainly not “pipeline”.

BP and Shell raided in European commission price-rigging inquiry | The Guardian

The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have “colluded” to rig oil prices for more than a decade.

The European commission said its officers carried out “unannounced inspections” at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have “colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products”.

The commission said the alleged price collusion, which may have been going on since 2002, could have had a “huge impact” on the price of petrol at the pumps “potentially harming final consumers”.

Lord Oakeshott, former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said the alleged rigging of oil prices was “as serious as rigging Libor” – which led to banks being fined hundreds of millions of pounds. [++]

Two oil projects in the works could significantly increase the amount of heavy crude oil moving on — and near — the Great Lakes, causing alarm among environmentalists because they involve the same heavy oil that was behind a $1-billion oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that remains an ecological disaster. The company fined for that spill — Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge — is behind one of the new projects. Its new venture would nearly double the amount of crude oil shipped on a major pipeline from Canada to Lake Superior — transporting more oil than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has caused an environmental outcry and fierce debate in Congress. The second project involves a refinery on Lake Superior’s shore building a dock to load oil barges, allowing the shipment of up to 13 million barrels of crude oil per year throughout the Great Lakes to Midwest refineries and markets beyond. Together, the projects would mean a new reality for the Great Lakes basin, heightening risks to the world’s most vital freshwater source, according to environmental groups. Great Lakes oil proposals threaten repeat of Kalamazoo spill, environmentalists say | Detroit Free Press (via dendroica)

(via dendroica)

California’s Monterey shale, which holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil, has been touted as crucial to the state’s energy future and a boon to its economy. A study released Thursday tries to quantify the potential economic benefits. The study by USC and the Communications Institute, a Los Angeles think tank, estimates that development of the 1,750-square-mile formation in central California could generate half a million new jobs by 2015 and 2.8 million by 2020.Tapping the Monterey shale, which holds an estimated two-thirds of the country’s shale oil reserves, would probably require some combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, a practice opposed by many environmentalists worried about possible damage to land and water.

Tapping California shale oil could add millions of jobs, study says

Bob Morris adds:

Monterey, it’s been fun knowing you as you exist today. While lip service will be paid to being extra special careful to the environment, the reality is greed-crazed drillers will soon be charging in like feral pigs in heat, fracking the hell out of everything that moves.

And in an area that already experiences its fair share of natural earthquakes, why not go ahead and introduce some man-made ones as well? The construction of property on the previously non-existent ocean front could be an “economic boon”, too!

Obama Tells Donors of Tough Politics of Environment |

Appearing at the home of an outspoken critic of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama on Wednesday night told a group of high-dollar donors that the politics of the environment “are tough.”

Mr. Obama appears to be leaning toward approval of the pipeline, although he did not specifically mention it to the donors. But he acknowledged that it is difficult to sell aggressive environmental action — such as reducing pollution from power plants — to Americans who are still struggling in a difficult economy to pay bills, buy gas and save for retirement.

“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your number-one concern,” Mr. Obama said. “And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”

Mr. Obama delivered his remarks to a group that hardly needs to worry economically: Thomas F. Steyer, the hedge-fund billionaire, and his wife, Kat Taylor, along with 100 guests at their home who each paid $5,000 to $32,400. The Sea Cliff home looked out directly over the Golden Gate Bridge.

The more effective evil.

Toxic and Tax Exempt | The Price of Oil

Sorry, Arkansas:

… Companies that transport oil are required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, giving the government a pot of money for immediate spill responses. The Enbridge pipeline in Michigan and the Exxon pipeline in Arkansas, however, are exempt because these pipelines are not considered to be carrying “conventional oil”, despite the fact bitumen spills are more expensive and more dangerous.

In a January 2011 memorandum, the IRS determined that to generate revenues for the oil spill trust fund, Congress only intended to tax conventional crude, and not tar sands or other unconventional oils. This exemption remains to this day, even though the United States moves billions of gallons of tar sands crude through its pipeline system every year. The trust fund is liable for tar sands oil spill cleanups without collecting any revenue from tar sands transport. If the fund goes broke,the American taxpayer foots the cleanup bill.

Arkansas Oil Pipeline Rupture: Exxon clean up operations continue in US | Al Jazeera English

Twelve thousand barrels of oil and water have been recovered in continuing clean up operations of the Exxon Mobil pipeline spill that spewed thousands of barrels of Canadian crude in Arkansas.

Clean-up crews had earlier recovered approximately 4,500 barrels of oil and water on Saturday but Exxon had no specific estimate of how much crude oil had spilled.

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said on Sunday that crews had yet to excavate the area around the pipeline breach, a needed step before the company can estimate how long repairs will take and when the line might restart.

"I can’t speculate on when it will happen," Jeffers said. "Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident."

Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, was shut after the leak was discovered late Friday afternoon in a subdivision near the town of Mayflower.

The US Environmental Protection Agency had categorised the rupture as a “major spill,” Exxon said, and 22 homes were evacuated following the incident.

Exxon said it staged the response to handle 10,000 barrels of oil “to ensure adequate resources are in place”.

Officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also were on site to investigate the spill.

Fifteen vacuum trucks remained on the scene for cleanup, and 33 storage tanks were deployed to temporarily store the oil.

The pipeline was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak.

An oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels into a Wisconsin field from an Enbridge Inc pipeline last summer kept that line shuttered for around 11 days.

Environmentalists have expressed concerns about the impact of developing the oil sands and say the crude is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil.

On Wednesday, a train carrying Canadian crude derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.

Almost without exception, the rush of ten-year reflections ignored that the war happened mostly for Iraqis | MERIP

[…] The Iraq war is poised to disappear … from American popular consciousness, once the present flurry of retrospectives has blown over. President Barack Obama took the lid off the memory hole with his injunction to “look forward, not backward.” No official from the administration of George W. Bush has paid the smallest price — not for dispatching US soldiers to their deaths for nothing, not for squandering billions of taxpayer dollars, not for terrifying the public into supporting the war with ghost stories about mushroom clouds and unmanned aerial vehicles spraying anthrax. And not for dealing a shattering blow to Iraq itself — the untold hundreds of thousands killed, the millions uprooted from their homes, the thousands tortured by the US or its Iraqi vassals, the enshrinement of sectarian logic in the institutions of the Iraqi state. Almost without exception, the rush of ten-year reflections ignored that the war happened mostly for Iraqis and that millions of them live with its traumas still. The war’s violence persists, and war-driven sectarianism afflicts not only Iraq but also the greater Middle East. Most of the displaced are unable to return. And then there is the haunting environmental damage: The US military dropped an unknown number of depleted uranium and other toxic munitions upon Falluja and elsewhere, leading to cancer clusters and an epidemic of birth defects. For Iraqis, the war is hardly over. Yet, these facts notwithstanding, Bush administration officials receive invitations to speak at prestigious institutions, where they have the gall to assert that the invasion was “worth it” or that only time will tell.

With such rot at the top, it is no wonder that history is being forgotten or rewritten further down the ranks. On March 18, Bill Bigelow, a long-time high-school teacher from Oregon now with Rethinking Schools, wrote an editorial in which he quoted from the Iraq war chapter in Modern World History, a widely adopted textbook published by Holt McDougal. The textbook offers a bowdlerized reading of the war’s origins and what Bigelow calls a “bloodless” account of the “major combat.” Of the Coalition Provisional Authority era, the 14 months in 2003-2004 when L. Paul Bremer directly misruled Iraq, the text says, “Despite the coalition victory, much work remained in Iraq. With the help of US officials, Iraqis began rebuilding their nation.” But the final indignity to history comes at the end, in what the textbook authors call a “critical writing” exercise for the students: “Imagine you are a speechwriter for President Bush. Write the introductory paragraph of a speech to coalition forces after their victory in Iraq.” When a politician’s tribute to the troops is conceived as a model for “critical writing,” the real lessons of the Iraq war are in danger of utter evaporation.

So here is an alternative question and a suggested answer: Is Alan Greenspan right? Was it “essential” for the preservation of US superpower status to invade Iraq in 2003? No. Though sanctions were weakening, and the international consensus behind them crumbling, the Iraqi military was dilapidated and posed no threat to the oil patch outside Iraqi borders. Iraqi oil could have been brought back to market by other means. The immediate cause of the war was a nasty historical accident: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 gave free rein to the neo-conservatives and their masters to enact their distinct vision for perpetuating US hegemony, a project for which the ouster of Saddam Hussein was to be a test run. But the Iraq war was indeed “largely about oil,” in that oil created the conditions of the war’s possibility. Understanding the relationship between oil and war is crucial for all who seek to prevent a repeat of the 2003 invasion, which, much more than a blunder, was and remains a huge and heinous crime. [must read]

State Dept Reiterates Sanctions Threat Against Pakistan Over Iran Pipeline


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has reiterated US threats to impose economic sanctions on Pakistan if it dares to follow through on the oft-delayed plans to build a gas pipeline to neighboring Iran.

“If this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” Nuland noted, insisting that they have been “straight up with the Pakistanis” about that fact.

Nuland has regularly presented Pakistanis with a choice between sanctions and US help in overcoming its energy crisis, which is choking the nation’s economy and is the prime mover behind the pipeline. The US pledges never seem to materialize, however, though they have caused several delays to the pipeline.

In the end, Pakistan may find itself in a position to call the administration’s bluff on sanctions, as the US almost certainly will not risk tit-for-tat sanctions that could close the Pakistani supply route into occupied Afghanistan. The final decision may hinge on the results of Pakistan’s upcoming election, however, and whether forces calling for economy independence through trade and industry can top the factions hoping for US handouts to finally materialize.

It’s all about TAPI. Welcome to pipelineistan.

Deepwater oil spill a 'classic failure' of BP management, court hears |

A culture of “every dollar counts” at BP led to the fatal Deepwater Horizon disaster and the US’s worst ever oil spill, a court heard on Tuesday.

Bob Bea, an expert in catastrophic engineering failures and a former BP consultant, said the disaster was a “classic failure of leadership and management in BP”.

On the second day of a civil trial in New Orleans, Robert Cunningham, an attorney representing businesses and individuals hit by the tragedy, drew a picture of widespread management failure at the company. In response, Bea told the court he had given sometimes “impolite” warnings to BP for years. In 2007 he wrote to them warning: “You still don’t get it.”

Bea, the first witness called in the sprawling civil case over the 2010 explosion and subsequent oil spill, said: “I told BP there aren’t no surprises.” He said BP had failed to implement its highest safety standards in the Gulf of Mexico, even though the company had acknowledged deepwater drilling in that region represented one of the highest risk activities it undertook.

Israel to drill for oil in Syria's Golan | Al Akhbar

Israel has awarded its first license to drill for oil on the occupied Golan Heights to a US energy company, industry sources said on Thursday.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The strategic plateau has been extensively settled by Israelis and is the site of a major wind turbine project.

Energy sector sources said that after Israel decided last year to allow oil and gas exploration on the Golan, Genie Energy was awarded a license to drill. The New Jersey-based company still needs further work permits for drilling to commence, a process that could take years.

Genie did not immediately return calls for comment.

The company’s Strategic Advisory Board includes a number of high-profile pro-Israel political and business leaders: US Vice President Dick Cheney, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and British banking tycoon Lord Jacob Rothschild.

When the climate crisis merits civil disobedience

With the announcement that the Sierra Club will engage in an act of civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history, this grassroots environmental organization is stepping up to join a long and honorable American tradition that civil rights advocates and so many others have used to strengthen American values.

In the 19th century, the searing injustice of slavery inspired Henry David Thoreau to lay out the principles of civil disobedience, even as he and other antislavery activists helped fugitive slaves reach freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. In the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a courageous campaign of nonviolent resistance that ultimately prevailed over a caustic national legacy of racism and segregation. Now the threat of climate disruption, hammered home last year by wildfires, droughts, and superstorm Sandy, again tests our moral values.

Civil disobedience is the response of ordinary people to injustices committed by powerful and entrenched special interests. The NAACP and the Sierra Club share a long history fighting for justice. Both of our organizations recognize that environmental pollution and recklessness causes enormous suffering in communities of color, where people still face a hugely disproportionate share of the burden. From “Cancer Alley” on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, to the brownfields of Camden, NJ, to the coal-ash–contaminated lands of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians in Nevada, good people with little power suffer from the indefensible actions of rich and powerful corporations — and no corporations wield their power to more corrosive effect than those in fossil fuel industries.

Simply facing a powerful foe does not justify civil disobedience. Anyone familiar with the histories of the Sierra Club and the NAACP knows that both organizations have long and proud traditions of working within the system to effect change — through the courts, public opinion, community organizing, and the ballot box. How, then, do we choose the moment that demands something more? In truth, it is the moment that chooses us.

… [A]lthough President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone. Worse, he could make decisions, such as allowing the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. — that would make it virtually impossible to stop climate disruption from spinning out of control and “betray[ing] … [his word] future generations.”

This is the moment that has chosen us. We must seize it. [more]

All About Oil: Former US Ambassador to Iraq Now Works for Exxon | Peter Van Buren

Demonstrating the core values of service and loyalty, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey now works directly for Exxon Mobile. Jeffrey was America’s man in Baghdad, helming the World’s Largest and Most Expensive Embassy there from 2010-2012.

The problem Jeffrey was most likely hired to resolve is oil, specifically oil in Kurdistan. The Kurds live in the northern chunk of Iraq and have always wanted to be an independent nation, separate from the Sunni and Shia Arabs who fill up the rest of Iraq. The “issue” of Kurdistan is one of the many significant genies the U.S. let out of the bottle with the 2003 invasion of Iraq that was left unresolved.

The Kurds oil, which Exxon would like to have. In late 2011 as the U.S. military was sounding the call to retreat, Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, defied the instructions of the Baghdad government and signed a separate deal with the Iraqi Kurds to search for oil in the northern area of Iraq they control. To make matters worse, three of the areas Exxon signed up to explore are on territory in dispute.

Now, in 2013, the Iraq central government is in a muscle tussle with Exxon. Exxon faces a dilemma over whether to operate in the south of the country or honor its deals with the autonomous Kurdistan region. Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki and his central government says the oil company can’t have both. Maliki last month made Exxon an offer in a bid to woo back the company, which had seemed intent on pulling out of the $50 billion oilfield in the south under the central government’s jurisdiction. The substance of Maliki’s offer to Exxon is not known, but industry sources describe it as substantial and say it is likely to involve sweet contract terms. The condition is that Exxon quit the northern Kurdish region.

One in-the-know economist offered this insight into why Kurdish oil is so attractive to Exxon:

For all its faults, the Baghdad-run awarding of oil contracts is as open and transparent as you can get in this sector. The Kurds on the other hand have a very murky process that allows for immense kickbacks and skimming. U.S. companies prefer working with the Kurds because they simply wave a wand and award a high-cost contract, while Baghdad nitpicks about every single cost.

So what’s a multi-national to do? Take the deal for the Shia south fields and abandon the likely richer northern Kurd fields? Why not hire a very recently ex-ambassador to pimp out his contacts with the Malaki government to see if you can score some crude from all sides? After all, since Jeffrey failed to positively affect the oil issue in Iraq as ambassador, what could possibly be wrong with him being hired as a consultant so that he, and Exxon, can profit from it?

Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down? | Michael Klare

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines.  It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. [continue]