CHAPTER IV OIL WARS
‐ Democracy or the New Imperialism?
Aurlandsfjord, Norway Norway has 4.5 million inhabitants but yet a landmass of 385,155 sq Km of which 3% is cultivable and 25% covered by forests. Norway is perhaps best known for its spectacular fjords, which are predominantly found in the southwest of the country. The coastline of Norway is 2,650 Km long, but if you take in to account all the fjords this figure can be multiplied by 10. The typical rainy climate of Norway is surprisingly mild for its latitude and at the height of summer day time temperatures range between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius in the South. The precipitation in the fjords reaches its peak in September through December.
Oil has enabled the people of the developed world to have a high standard of living
It feeds the power stations that generate energy for our homes and industry
It provides fuel for transport that enables trade and tourism
Without oil our societies crumble
65% of our current energy supply comes from oil
In September 2000 the UK came to a standstill with a blockade of ports, oil refineries and fuel depots due to protests of rising fuel costs. More than ¾ of the UK’s petrol stations ran dry, the National Health Service was on red alert and thousands of school children were sent home
Kjosfessen, Flambanen railway If you are limited for time the best way of experiencing the fjords is to take the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ tour. The tour starts at Voss, which can be reached by rail from either Bergen or Oslo. From Voss a spectacular train ride known as the Flambanen Railway takes you to the pretty village of Flam. At Flam a boat takes you through two of the most spectacular fjords in Norway, Aurlandsfjord and Naeroyfjord, both of which are off Shoots of the much larger Sognefjord. The Naeroyfjord is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. .
How much oil is left?
No one knows exactly how much oil is left, but it is on the decline Discoveries of new oil fields have declined in the last 40 years
The problem is that as the world’s population increases the demand for oil will far out grow the amount we can supply: ‐ the emerging markets of China & India now use more oil ‐ China’s energy demands increased by 30% in 2009 ‐ developing countries use twice as much oil to produce $1 of manufactured goods as a result of inefficient technologies 2013 The year that some forecasters are predicting that we will start to see a shortage of supply for crude oil The cost of a barrel of oil in July 2010 was $75.58; in March 2011 it was $108 and by 2013 it could be as high as $200
View from Stalheim Hotel The boat trip in the ‘Norway in a Nutshell tour’ ends at Guvavangan, where a comfortable coach journey takes you back to Voss through more stunning scenery. The stop at the Stalheim Hotel affords particularly impressive views. The tour is available all year. Wrap up though as even in summer the cruise along the fjords can be a little cold.
The problems with oil Greenhouse gases Pollution from oil tanker spills and other accidents – the massive BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico is the latest catastrophe Dependency Oil shapes our economies, lifestyle and politics. As the reserves start to run dry we could face a stock market crash and economic meltdown unless we become less dependent on oil More sinister connotations In 1932 Hitler stated that ‘an economy without oil is inconceivable in a nation that wishes to remain independent’. His desire to control oil‐rich Russian Caucasus ended with the catastrophe of Stalingrad Since that time oil appears to have played a key factor in where we decide to wage our wars ………………
Old road to Hardangerfjord The most scenic journey from Voss to Hardangerfjord takes in the old road, which begins approximately 22 km along the main road from Voss to Ulvik. Ulvik is a traditional Norwegian village set on the banks of the Hardangerfjord. This is a fruit‐growing region and close by can be found the Ulvikpollen wetlands, which are home to over 80 species of bird including the Golden Plover. On the other side of the Hardangerfjord is the village of Eidfjord, which lies in close proximity to the Hardangervidda Nature Centre and the most famous waterfall in Norway, the Voringfossen.
‘Wars’ of the World
Military intervention outside of the western world ‐ Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya All regions rich in fossil fuels
No military intervention ‐ Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, Zimbabwe ‐ The Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of central Africa ‐ Palestine and Tibet Regions relatively poor in fossil fuels
Oil wars are happening right in front of our eyes, and have been doing so for many years – this is no conspiracy theory. The US is the largest oil consumer, making up 25% of the world’s demands and so it has the biggest stake in oil. It has a measure of control over or access to about 50 % of the world’s oil reserves. However its own oil production has been in decline for 25 years and is in an irreversible terminal trend. According to the United States Energy Information Administration this situation is going to be made worse as a result of demand for oil ‐ in 2001 the US imported an average of 9.1 million barrels per day, which is over 60 percent of its crude oil needs, in 2020 the country is projected to require almost 26 million barrels per day in imports. It is clear that the US, like any country, can only be a major player in world politics if it can maintain its energy supply. The only current solution for the US is access to oil in the Middle East, which has 64% of the world’s known reserves and about half of the ‘yet‐to‐produce’. It was not a big surprise when Kuwait, with the sixth largest oil reserve in the world was invaded by Iraq – and just as when Germany invaded Poland at the start of the Second World War, international retaliation against the aggressors was justifiable. However since that time the story goes down hill. We were led to believe that the war in Iraq was as a result of a nuclear threat, however, this was never the case ‐ the international community never supported the invasion of Iraq. Yes, Saddam Hussain was an evil dictator but by the same token so is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and those that caused the massacre in Rwanda. So, why is it we choose to fight in the Middle East and not Africa? Iraq just happens to possess the world’s second largest oil reserve with 112.5 billion barrels, about 11% of the total world reserve. In addition Iraq represented a threat to the other oil producing nations in the region. When you realise that the first US military objectives were to secure control of the oil fields, refineries and Oil Ministry, the main purpose of the invasion becomes clear.
So what about Afghanistan? Is the war in Afghanistan really about Bin Laden and 9/11? after all most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden himself was tracked down in Pakistan and those wishing to learn how to fly planes into buildings or blow themselves up don’t need to attend a training camp in Afghanistan – there are many other places to hide in the world. Indeed the main risk of terrorist attacks against the West comes from our continued military presence in Central Asia as it services to radicalise young Muslims – how would the countries of the Western world react if we were invaded? With regards to the Taliban, the US government had been planning its downfall long before 9/11.
Sadly the reason for our presence in Afghanistan is again about energy; both oil and gas, and at stake is nothing less than who holds the future high ground in the competition for the worldʹs energy resources. The Caspian states hold at least 200 billion barrels of oil, which represent the biggest hitherto untapped reserves of oil in the world. In addition Central Asia has 6.6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas just begging to be exploited. A quick look at the map on the previous page tells all. All those countries that have a potential role in transporting energy to the West have already been subjected either to a direct interference or to all‐out war: Chechnya, Georgia, Kurdistan, Yugoslavia and Macedonia. Russia and China cannot be described as close allies to the US and so this leaves Afghanistan as a key part of the pipeline politics of Central Asia. Success in this region will enable western oil companies to get oil out to the Arabian Sea as well as providing energy to Pakistan and India – which is very profitable and affords a certain level of control. Of course such proposed pipelines can only succeed if there is more political stability in the area, which could only occur with a single Afghan government and the removal of the Taliban – so after the Afghan invasion took place a new government was formed and headed by President Kazai, a former adviser to Unocal, a large oil company. In a further move to hold a bigger stake in the region the US reached a financial agreement with Kyrgyzstan to reverse their decision to close the US base at Manas, and, more recently, President Obama has agreed to increase aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Oil and gas by themselves are not the USʹs ultimate aim, but rather control. If the US controls the sources of energy of its rivals — Europe, Japan, China, and other nations aspiring to be more independent — they win. The US has enormous military power but as Iraq, and now Afghanistan, makes clear, the old days of cornering a market by engineering a coup or sending in the Marines are fast receding. The old imperial nations are fading, and the up‐and‐comers are more likely to be speaking Portuguese, Chinese, and Hindi than English. The trick over the next several decades will be how to keep the competition for energy from sparking off brush fire wars or a catastrophic clash of the great powers.
The cost of oil wars Financial costs to the US ‐ direct costs $750 billion with estimated future direct costs $500 billion ‐ cost to the US economy $400 billion, with added interest $600 billion ‐ macro‐economic impact $1‐2 trillion The cost to the U.K. of the Afghan conflict ‐ £12 billion Human costs It is estimated that there have been 1,000,000 violent deaths since the start of the Iraq war, most of these are civilian. Over 5000 U.S soldiers have been killed and more than 80,000 injured. As of 23rd March 2011, 362 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan alone. As for opium, although last year saw a fall in export the price of heroin is low and so much is being stockpiled – as for other years the amount produced in Afghanistan has increased by 150% Support our troops, but not our government policies that send them to fight for oil What could have been for all those that lost their lives? What else could we have done with all that money?
If you still don’t believe in the Oil wars then why have we kept out of Africa? The Rwandan genocide and refugee crisis 1994‐96 ‐ 800,000 Rwandans murdered ‐ this took place under the eyes of 2,600 UN peacekeepers In a small country with an ill‐equipped army, western military intervention could have stopped the slaughter within days or weeks Dafur, Sudan ‐ a civil war began in 1993 ‐ tens of thousands have died as a result of conflict or starvation Zimbabwe ‐ the ruthless regime of Robert Mugabe has left countless dead ‐ in the 1980’s alone his crack troop the 5th brigade murdered an estimated 20,000 people in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces Central Africa ‐ ethnic massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo ‐ abduction and enslavement in northern Uganda and southern Sudan ‐ widespread laying of landmines and denial of human rights in Angola and Congo‐Brazzaville
But it’s not just the fault of the West ‐ it is more the rich versus the poor Most would agree that the world is a better place without Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but when we look deeper in to the West’s foreign policy in Central Asia is it really about democracy or is it the New Imperialism? We used to go to war to protect our country but now we go in search of fossil fuel, a fact that is no conspiracy theory. The only conspiracy theories are that Saddam Hussein had nuclear capability and the so‐called ‘war on terror’. Unfortunately history has shown us that aggression tends to be met with aggression and so as we continue to tread on other peoples soil we leave ourselves open to attack by people disillusioned with the ways of the West. However the blame must not lay solely with the West as the Arab league does little to manage its own conflicts. The 2011 up‐risings in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya and Syria have also opened our eyes to the fact that across the world the so called riches of oil are not shared amongst the poor such that the rich are getting richer while the poor remain poor. And what about the New Imperialism? This is much more subtle than in the past, but as the military withdraws from central Asia the platform has been made for the influx of multinational corporations dealing with fossil fuels, and who fly the flag of the West. The fact that China and Russia, the other super‐powers in the region do not support the West speaks volumes, and let us not forget the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics to protest against the Russian war in Afghanistan. If we really want a peaceful world we have to get better at sharing, and if a global society is to be built on basic human values, then these values have to take precedence over national sovereignty in all parts of the world, whether or not they are rich in natural resources.
Back in Norway ‐ Lake Strynsvatn from Glomnus Travelling north from the Sognefjord brings you to the Jostedalsbreen National Park, which affords good hiking opportunities. The main accommodation in this area are the towns of Skei and Stryn, but there are a large number of small villages offering much more scenic stays. My own favourite is a tiny hamlet called Glomnus, a short but steep hike from which offers spectacular views of Lake Strynsvatn and the surrounding mountains. On the other side of the lake is the Jostedalsbreen National Park Centre, which can be reached by a short drive, or far better a gentle row from one the boats that can be used if you stay in the holiday cottages in Glomnus.
What are the alternatives to oil?
Traditional fuels Coal, natural gas and nuclear
Renewable energy What about saving energy?
‐ the average food item in a supermarket travels 1500km
‐ energy efficient light bulbs use ¼ less energy and last 12 times as long
‐ one long‐haul return flight can produce more CO2 per passenger than the average UK motorist does per year
‐ if all UK households turned off their TVs at night instead of leaving them on standby we would avoid emitting an amount of CO2 that would fill the O2 arena 38 times each year
‐ 4 by 4 cars not only guzzle petrol, but are more likely to harm to others in road accidents
Mist on Lake Strynsvatn Close to Lake Strynsvatn are a number of places well worth a visit. From the small town of Olden on Nordfjord, a scenic road takes you to the glacial tongues of Brenndalsbreen and Briksdalsbreen. An alternative way of reaching the glaciers is by pony carts, operated by local guesthouses. Not far from Olden lies the lovely glacial lake of Lovatnet, which can be accessed either by road or by boat from Sande. At the end of the lake it is possible to take an easy 2km walk to the glacier face.
As with oil, other traditional fuel sources can’t simply be switched off as we are too reliant on them, but they have well documented problems Coal The burning of coal is highly polluting. New carbon‐capture technology may improve matters but has potential pitfalls. The long‐term environmental impacts are unknown. In the UK such a project is likely to cost £ 1‐2 billion. Extra energy is needed to run carbon capture and storage plants, meaning that substantially more coal has to be mined and shipped ‐ given that UK already imports 75% of its coal, this is a major concern. Current estimates suggest that 50% more energy would be consumed for the same electricity generation Natural gas ‐ its reserves are predicted to last for 60 years Nuclear energy ‐ there remains no satisfactory solution to waste disposal ‐ concerns of national security, and natural disasters ‐ low cost uranium reserves are predicted to run out in 50 years
Mountain Huts Driving away from the Jostebalsbreen area roads lead northeast to Geriangerfjord and Andalsnes, or northwest to the fine costal town of Alesund. En route can be found the Stryn Sommerskisenter, which provides Norway’s most extensive summer ski area.
The best way of travelling around Norway is to bring your own car, fill it with food and stay in Norwegian cabins, known locally as ‘Hytte’. These cabins are inexpensive, of good quality, and more importantly enable you to eat in. Eating out in Norway is not recommended as food and wine is extortionate, and as a result eating out is not a favourite past time of many locals.
The Renewable front runners
Wind power The rota blades of wind power stations are blown around to drive generators that produce electrical power. The earth has enough wind to produce over 40 times the world’s current electrical consumption. It is one of the fastest growing markets in Europe Plants have good records of availability and reliability with a life span of 25 years Solar energy Huge amounts of sunlight fall on the Earth, its energy can be collected in 2 ways ‐ Concentrating solar panel (CSP) schemes use direct sunlight, employing reflectors that gather and focus light to produce heat. In large scale plants heat is used to drive turbines and generators ‐ The Photo‐voltaic (PV) scheme is the most prolific method. When exposed to light, electrons begin to move in a single direction, which is effectively an electrical current that can be used as a direct power source. The largest plant to date is to be built in Dubai
And what about hydrogen? Hydrogen is already in limited use being burnt as a vehicle fuel and as an energy source for fuel cells, which work by converting chemical energy into electrical energy like a battery. Hydrogen is in abundant supply in the earths crust and also as water, however its long‐term potential is unknown and major factors need to be addressed such how do we get to the hydrogen and safety issues?
Geriangerfjord and Cruise Ship Geriangerfjord is perhaps one of Norway’s most famous fjords. A boat trip along the 20km fjord enables close up views of its famous waterfalls such as ‘The Severn Sisters’, and abandoned cliff side farms. There is some excellent hiking to be found around Geriangerfjord, route maps can be picked up from the tourist office at the town of Gerianger. If time allows while in the region, a trip heading north along the Trollstigen towards Andalsnes is thoroughly recommended. The Trollstigen is an immense road with 11 hairpin bends that takes you underneath the dramatic Trollveggen summit and passed the thundering Stigfossen waterfall.
Other Renewables Hydroelectric power uses flowing water from rivers or dams to turn turbines, which generate electricity generators. It is cheap, robust and non‐polluting but installation can have a huge impact on landscapes. Wave power can be acquired in several ways; one of the best known uses a partially submerged vertical hollow column. Wave motion forces water up the column, pushing air ahead of it, the air is used to drive a turbine, which in turn drives an electricity generator. It is a reliable source of energy but construction is costly and environmental impacts have restricted the development of large barrage schemes. Geothermal uses natural heat from the earth’s crust. Naturally occurring heated water can be used for district heating, while water over temperatures over 150 degrees Celsius can be used for generation of electricity. Technologies are well proven with low environmental impact but its use depends on close proximity of energy users and its availability is limited. Biomass fuel is produced from crops having a high yield of dry material such as short‐ rotation crops, willow and poplar trees. It is a by‐product of forestry, timber and pulp production and is also available from agricultural sources such as straw, and as energy crops grown for the specific purpose. It is the largest single contribution to renewable energy use in Europe and can be grown in areas low in soil nutrition. Bio cars run on wood chip, wheat and sugar. Its big disadvantage though is that it is a combustible fuel. Liquid bio fuels are well established for use in transport as bio diesel and bio ethanol, both fuels are processed from agricultural crops on an industrial scale. Most bio diesel is processed from oilseed rape and sunflower oil, while bio ethanol is processed from wheat, sugar beet and sweet sorghum. Again though it is a combustible fuel and its supply is limited by reluctance of farmers to grow non‐food crops. Landfill gas energy in the way of methane is produced as organic waste disposed of in landfill sites decays. The methane gas can then be burnt to produce heat and electricity. While it is a ‘good’ use of waste the burning of methane produces CO2, and although this is less harmful than allowing methane to escape into the community legislation is increasingly limiting the use of landfill sites for waste disposal. As an alternative municipal solid waste can be burnt to produce electricity and plant technology is commercially established. Anaerobic digestion is an established method of sewage treatment, which uses bacteria to reduce organic waste in an oxygen‐free environment. It produces a methane‐rich biogas suitable for heat or power generation. The process also produces a liquid element that can be used as a fertiliser, and a solid element that can be used as a soil conditioner or processed into organic compost.
Blindheimssanden Vigra When in the fjords the coast is never too far away. One of the most pleasant costal towns is Alesund, much of which was rebuilt in ‘Art Nouveau’ style following a fire in the early twentieth century. A great view of the town can be gained from climbing the 418 steps up the Aksla hill to the Kniven overlook. Close to Alesund is the Atlanterhavsparken with its aquarium, coastal hikes and a good chance of seal spotting. There are a number of small islands in this area, which offer some fine beaches. My favourite is Blindheimssanden, which is situated on the northwest of Vigra.
The problems with the renewables
Biofuels added to petrol and diesel can be detrimental as it is often produced from crops such as soy and palm oil grown on land that are felled areas of rainforest
New technologies are not yet efficient and often lack infrastructure ‐ a study from California showed that wind power at one of its plants operated at only 23% of the realised average capacity compared with 75% for traditional fuels ‐ supply and demand may not meet, this is particularly so for on shore wind farms ‐ are not necessarily cost competitive and so customers may choose cheaper and more polluting traditional fuels
Some people find large‐scale wind and solar plants unsightly and are concerned about their potential impact on local wildlife
The Hurtigruten Coastal Steamer The Hurtigruten Coastal Steamer is one of the most famous cruises in the world and offers an alternative way of exploring the fjords. Every day of the year one ship sets seal north on an epic 11 day journey from Bergen to Kirkenes in the Arctic Circle. The trip takes in 33 stops including Gerianger and the Lofoten Islands. Of course you don’t have to travel the entire route and we sampled the steamer by putting our car on north of Alesund at Kristiansund and sailing south to Bergen.
Where do we go from here? The future of our energy supplies is already a cause for concern, and this is with a population of under 7 billion people on our planet. Is our planet big enough for an estimated 9 billion people over the forth coming decades? Probably not, or at least not without increasing the number of people suffering drought and starvation, not to mention the catastrophic effects on the environment. As such, there is a serious need for governments to consider population control. Is quantity or quality of life more important?
As for the oil wars – have they arisen out of a fear that the developed world could not develop enough renewable energy before existing oil supplies started to run dry or was it down to the greed of the oil companies? Probably a combination of both but we may never know the truth. Regardless the vast sums of money spent at war would have been much better spent developing efficient renewable technology. Aside from the oil wars the UK spends 26 times more money on research and development of military weapons than on climate change.
Renewable energy sources are not nearly ready to replace traditional fuels but they are starting to gain momentum – in Germany the renewable energy sector is worth £20 billion and employs 250,000 people. In the long‐term we have to make renewable energy work and it needs to become our primary energy source.
Renewable energy is beneficial for the environment. But one of the most understated reasons for moving away from oil is that we can all become less reliant on other nations for energy needs and this can only reduce the potential for human conflict.
In the future our world potentially has more to lose from oil than it has to gain. As to the here and now, how far are we removed from the Mad Max scenario? On the 4th September 2009, in Afghanistan, two oil tankers were ‘stolen’ by the Taliban. NATO planes attacked but as they destroyed the tankers, up to 90 people were killed as local villagers had approached the tankers with water buckets and pots to collect the oil for cooking.