In BC, indigenous resistance to pipelines on traditional lands

“In British Columbia, indigenous group blocks pipeline development” | Al Jazeera America – August 2015:

Since June, the Unist’ot’en clan has prevented work crews from accessing traditional territories that oil companies see as key to Canada’s future

My quick summary of the story: Indigenous Canadians from the Unist’ot’en clan are physically re-occupying land, stolen from them over a century ago, to prevent environmentally destructive energy development by the Harper government and oil companies.

No wonder Prime Minister Harper reacted so angrily last year when the United Nations reminded him he is bound to receive “Free, prior and informed consent” from First Nations peoples when Canadian federal policies affect them and their sovereign nations. Free, prior, and informed consent tends to stop things like pipelines.

Best quote: “This is Unist’ot’en territory. It’s not Canada. It’s not B.C.”

Not everyone in the Nation, of course, is happy with the resistance. Some chiefs seemed more supportive of the oil companies than of the efforts to block the pipeline, claiming it would be economically beneficial to their Nation.


4 reasons the US doesn’t need Saudi Arabia anymore

Highlights from The Economist’s excellent article on why these days the United States can afford to (and should) drop Saudi Arabia as a major ally, to stop undermining all of U.S. foreign policy:

1. Oil: “Oil is fungible: lousy relations with Russia, the second-biggest producer, do not threaten America’s economy. […] America’s shale technology has put a ceiling on the oil price, and its economy is less oil-intensive than three decades ago.”

2. Counterterrorism: “Intelligence co-operation may be valuable, but its main task is tracking threats that have been subsidised by the Saudis themselves.”

3. Stability: “If the regime is as secure as it seems, however, why should America abandon its basic values in the name of keeping it in place?”

4. Arms Sales: “Strip these things away and what’s left is the arms sales. These at least have the virtue of being nakedly self-interested. […] yet America need not be so eager to put principle aside when dealing with its old ally” [merely to sell arms to Saudi Arabia].

Read the full article for explication/justification of each of these quotations.

Pictured: FDR meeting with King Ibn Saud, of Saudi Arabia, on board USS Quincy in Egypt, on 14 February 1945.

Pictured: FDR meeting with King Ibn Saud, of Saudi Arabia, on board USS Quincy in Egypt, on 14 February 1945.

Hope and concern over new East African gasfield discoveries

Tanzania Daily News, December 30, 2014, “Tanzania, Mozambique Top Africa’s Oil, Gas Table“:

Africa’s energy industry could boom in the coming years, with Mozambique and Tanzania set to emerge as new frontiers if they can attract enough badly needed investment, a report said recently.

Six of the top 10 global discoveries in 2013 were made in Africa, with more than 500 companies now exploring across to the continent, according to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Large gas finds in Mozambique and Tanzania would make the world “take note of east Africa as an emerging player in the global industry,” said the report’s advisory leader, Chris Bredenhann.

The boom has brought investment opportunities, despite the lingering challenges of corruption, lack of infrastructure and regulation.

Transactions worth some $1 billion occurred every 17 days in Africa’s oil and sector last year, the report said. Still, the continent faces fierce competition for vital investment from other parts of the world, the PWC report cautioned.

As noted above, public theft of revenues remains a huge challenge if ordinary Africans are to receive any benefits from this expansion of the resource extraction industry — rather than simply being exploited once again. Moreover, it is always critical to avoid becoming economically and societally dependent on the export revenues of a single natural resource.

However, there are other challenges too. Gideon George, several days earlier in the Tanzania Daily News, had already published a piece warning Tanzanians not to get their hopes up for (or prematurely fear the effects of) big revenues and investments flooding the country, quite yet, because of the economics involved:

Reports from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) show that gas deposits have now reached 50.4 trillion cubic feet (tcf), increasing anxiety among the population which now thinks Tanzania is on the way to becoming another ‘Dubai’.

Experts term this as ‘extremely high expectations of super earnings’ and no wonder the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was so adamant that it set its eyes on the 26 PSAs that have been signed between the Government through the TPDC and the exploration companies.

Ask anyone on the prospects and the answer would be trillions of dollars in super earnings. However, according to oil and gas experts, the expected high earnings could remain a dream because of a number of factors including more gas discoveries being made elsewhere around the globe which could lower prices due to stiff competition.

These include discoveries in other countries of the region such as Mozambique which has proven reserves of gas amounting to 150 million tcf, discoveries from other continents discoveries from unconventional sources such as shale gas. Shale gas in the United States is rapidly increasing as an available source of natural gas.
“Discovering gas deposits is one thing and extracting them and selling them is quite another. You can have large deposits if cannot you to extract the gas or get markets to sell the gas the dream of super earnings would easily evaporate,” said a Denis Maringo Founding Director of the Oil, Natural Gas & Environmental Alliance (ONGEA), adding that “there is no need to be over ambitious.”

The view has been strengthened by a Dar es Salaam University Don, Dr. Alex Hepelwa who has asked Tanzania to tow a precautionary line over expected gas earnings, emphasizing the need to develop a strong internal market through increased use of gas for domestic and industrial purposes.

Simply put, the more unconventional fields discovered and opened around the world, the lower the wholesale oil and gas prices will fall due to competition, and some of the more difficult reserves (both technically and governmentally) to develop will continue to remain just out of reach.

As always, establishing transparent governance and enforcing the rule of law are prerequisites to any country or region receiving durable and useful foreign direct investment and benefiting from the arrival of new industries. They cannot come later. Such measures attract stable partnerships with good-faith actors and help ensure that the local population is not being played. They also promote sounder and broader-based long-term investment of national natural resource wealth into human development for the whole population.

State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.

Sigh. It seems that despite the overwhelming voice of Americans insisting the government take steps to reduce the effects of climate change, there are still those (read: gas and oil companies) that insist on blocking the effort. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton wrote a riveting piece on the collaboration of Republican state Attorneys General and corporations’ to push to dismantle the E.P.A and Obama administration’s regulations. He notes:

Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court.

I’ll skip over the obvious in this statement (Democrats were trying to protect the air we breathe), and move onto the fact that this is incredibly dangerous and unprecedented business. David B. Frohnmayer, a former Republican Attorney General from Oregon noted that these Attorneys General are shamelessly using a public office to support corporate interests and their financial interests.

While these gas and oil companies are reveling in the success of these shared efforts, Republican Attorneys General — who represent half the states right now — are reaping the benefits of raised national profiles and a club that acts like a national law firm. The club has systematically filed lawsuits against major federal policy, including the Affordable Care Act, securities regulation, and recently Obama’s action on immigration.

Lipton focuses on one Attorney General in particular, Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma, a particularly proud collaborator with the industry. Mr. Pruitt’s office moved a couple words around in a three-page letter from Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas companies, and sent it off to Washington on official state letterhead. One of Mr. Pruitt’s closest partners has been Harold M. Hamm, the Chief Executive of Continental Resources. Mr. Pruitt hangs out with Andrew P. Miller, a former Virginia Attorney General, who in turn has clients like TransCanada (aka the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline).
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China will send its first armed peacekeepers to South Sudan

Almost exactly a year after I published an op-ed calling on China to break tradition and contribute combat-ready peacekeeping infantry — something they’ve never done before — to the UN mission in South Sudan, they have announced they will be doing just that.

700 troops will be arriving in January and March — along with drones, armored vehicles, mortars, anti-tank weapons, light arms, and body armor. China’s military and government stressed that the troops will only be armed to protect themselves from attack. (Although this seems like it might be overkill, at least two UN peacekeepers were killed in December 2013 while trying to defend a UN military base and refugee haven from being overrun by two thousand rebel child soldiers, who began massacring civilians once inside the base.)

It is China’s first UN peacekeeping mission that doesn’t just involve sending medics, engineers, guards, and other non-combat troops (of which they have sent thousands to UN-monitored conflicts all over the world).

China is very likely the only country with relatively good ties to just about everyone in South Sudan’s crisis, due to its role as the primary buyer and developer of South Sudanese oil. Although they lean somewhat toward supporting the incumbent government, they also need the rebels to cooperate (to restore the oil production levels) and the rebels need China (to buy the oil from their areas and give them revenue). This gives China an unusual opportunity to be the force in the middle. But it is also a sign that China is stepping up its role and responsibilities in world affairs to a level proportionate with its size and power.


The Battle for Xinjiang (and its energy riches)

One of areas of China bordering central Asia (including a small border with northern Afghanistan, which became important by accident during the U.S. invasion of that country in 2001) is China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Over the past year, there have been a rising number of terrorist attacks on civilian targets in this region, and in other areas of China, performed by separatists from that Xinjiang Region.

Xinjiang, or the “New Frontier” from eastern China’s perspective sometimes, is formerly known as Chinese or East Turkestan in most maps from the Western World. It is China’s largest administrative area and is located in northwest China, north of the Tibet region. Very strategically, it shares borders with several former Soviet Republics, plus Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Map of the de facto territory of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China. (Credit: TUBS - Wikimedia)

Map of the de facto territory of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China. (Credit: TUBS – Wikimedia)

Xinjiang is nearly evenly split between China’s overall majority ethnic group the Han and the ethnic minority Uighurs (also spelled Uyghurs) — who are the largest ethnicity in the Xinjian region, a situation which is highly unusual for Chinese minority ethnic groups nationwide and which has fueled a lot of tension.

Uighurs argue (probably correctly) that they are an oppressed minority in China. The Communist Party, in return, doesn’t trust them, both because they are dissimilar from the rest of the country and because they actively waged an Islamic insurgency during the 1950s against the People’s Republic of China. This rebellion was nominally in support of their Nationalist allies, who had fled to Taiwan after the end of the Chinese Civil War at the end of the 1940s, but was of course largely motivated by a desire for self-rule after many generations of outside domination.

In fact, Uighur support for the Nationalists was a rare exception to their historic trend of generally resisting all outsiders, including a Soviet invasion in 1934, the Russian Empire in the 19th century, and various Chinese dynasties that attempted to assert control over the area throughout history.

They are, essentially, another of the many small and diverse warrior cultures of Central Asia, which we’ve seen in action in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and the past decade — except that they (now) happen to fall within China, on the map, as opposed to one of the “Stans.” And indeed they are more closely related to the ethnic groups in those areas than to the rest of China, which is one of the exacerbating sources of conflict.

The population, as is true of much of the Western half of China (outside of Tibet), is heavily Muslim. As a result — and due to its borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan — they have been somewhat accidentally caught up in the Global War on Terror.

But beyond the War on Terror, according to a report in The New York Times, there is also an almost mind-blowingly huge potential for energy production and distribution, which is being developed as fast as possible now. And that potential is probably the real reason the People’s Republic of China has been so determined since the 1950s — when the first very major oil field was definitively identified — to hold onto and dominate the Xinjiang region, especially now that the rest of China has such a large need for fuel and power.

At this point, Xinjiang’s strategic energy value is so high to the rest of China and the national government, that probably no amount of separatist unrest will shake them or slow down their energy economy development of the area. Here, from the Times report, is what they are working with …

Oil and gas production:

The foundation of Xinjiang’s energy economy is oil. Xinjiang has an estimated 21 billion tons of oil reserves, a fifth of China’s total, and major new deposits are still being found. This month, a state-owned oil company announced its greatest discovery of the year here, a deposit estimated to have more than one billion tons of oil on the northwestern edge of the Dzungarian Basin, not far from Karamay’s fields. Xinjiang is expected to produce 35 million tons of crude oil by 2020, a 23 percent increase over 2012, according to the Ministry of Land Resources.

Coal mining:

Xinjiang also has the country’s largest coal reserves, an estimated 40 percent of the national total, and the largest natural gas reserves. Those three components form an energy hat trick that China is capitalizing on to power its cities and industries.

Electricity exports:

The main state-owned electric utility, the State Grid Corporation of China, is investing $2.3 billion over the next year to build high-voltage lines, according to People’s Daily, the main party newspaper. Xinjiang will export electricity to more populated parts of China and perhaps to Central Asia.

Energy transit infrastructure:

“Xinjiang is where all the growth in oil, gas and coal is going to be coming from,” said Lin Boqiang, an energy scholar at Xiamen University and adviser at PetroChina, China’s biggest oil producer. “Second, all the imported resources from Central Asia, oil and gas, go through Xinjiang and then get distributed from there.”

Xinjiang produced 25 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2012, and it aims to increase that to 44 billion cubic meters next year.

Pipelines already transport natural gas from Central Asia and Xinjiang to central and eastern China. A new pipeline from Western Siberia is expected to transport 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year through the Altai Mountains to central Xinjiang, where it would connect with domestic east-west pipelines.

In that light, probably the best the Uighurs of Xinjiang can hope for is additional autonomy (including religious and cultural identity autonomy, as well as freedom from ethnic and religious discrimination in government policy) and more importantly a new revenue-sharing deal to give them more of the export profits and a higher standard of living. Independence or maintaining a Uighur plurality in the region’s demographic breakdown (i.e. keeping out more Han Chinese residents and workers) are just probably not on the table anymore.

Western Libya militias move on eastern oil export terminals

According to the BBC, western Libyan Islamist militias this past weekend launched a surprise attack on the eastern / anti-Islamist controlled oil export terminals at Sidra and Ra’s Lanuf, two port cities just west of the approximate political dividing line between eastern and western Libya.

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 - Wikimedia)

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 – Wikimedia)

This is when things are going to get really real in Libya’s rising domestic conflict. Right now, as explained here previously, Libya’s oil export terminals at Sidra and other locations in the eastern end of the country are under control of the anti-Islamist “House of Representatives government” (HOR), based in Tobruk in the east, while the revenues from overseas oil sales are under the control of the pro-Islamist “General National Congress government” (GNC), based in in Tripoli.

But if the oil ports fall to the GNC, unifying control of both the exports and revenues under one side, what little cooperation remains between the two factions (by fiscal/economic necessity at the moment) will disintegrate. It will also put the HOR and its vaguely aligned anti-Islamist paramilitaries at serious risk of running out of funds for its payroll (and possibly trigger a very messy, major foreign intervention against the GNC).

Neither rival government currently has legal standing in Libya anymore, but the HOR faction has international recognition and was elected more recently.