Nafeez Ahmed

Spent the weekend reading an incredible series of articles in the Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed. Ahmed is an investigative journalist and international security scholar and his many books (including a novel), articles and interview provide startling insights into the Machiavellian politics that animate the desire to preserve oil profits and oil interests—at any cost.

Think of any of the international crises that have dominated the news this summer—the military siege of Gaza, the ISIS rampage throughout Syria and Iraq and you’ll discover the primary engine fueling these events is the geopolitics of oil and gas. But then, again is there any geopolitics today that is not motivated by desperate machinations to secure privileged access to oil and gas in an era of dramatically declining reserves of conventional sources ?

According to Nafeez, one of the primary motivations of the relentless and ruthless assault on Gaza has to do with Israel’s desire to control access to the 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas discovered in 2000 off the Gaza coast, valued at $4 billion. Israel’s long-term goal, he writes “besides preventing the Palestinians from exploiting their own resources, is to integrate the gas fields off Gaza into the adjacent Israeli offshore installations.”

Here is Nafeez on the current fiasco in Iraq: “The meteoric rise of Isis is a predictable consequence of a longstanding US-led geostrategy in the Middle East that has seen tyrants and terrorists as tools to expedite access to regional oil and gas resources.” According to well documented reports and correspondence from US private intelligence firm Stafor (made public through WikiLeaks), jihadist groups in Syria (including Isis) have been generously funded (to the tune of 1 billion dollars) by the Gulf States, particularly Saudia Arabia and Qatar with tacit support and knowledge of U.S. and British security agencies. Nafeez links this support to a “Divide and Rule” strategy operative in the Pentagon and U.S. state department which involved “exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.”

Now, as he points out, “Iraqis are paying the price yet again for our ill-conceived imperial hubris.”

If there is any good news that Nafeez sees in the current geopolitics of oil it is that the move to non-conventionals (including shale and offshore oil) is economically unsustainable. In this case, ‘unsustainability’ has nothing to do with the real long term ecological impacts but everything to do with free market economics.

As he puts it, “Since 2000, the oil industry’s investments have risen by 180% – a threefold increase – but this has translated into a global oil supply increase of just 14%. Two-thirds of this increase has been made-up by unconventional oil and gas. In other words, the primary driver of the cost explosion is the shift to expensive and difficult-to-extract unconventionals …” The dramatic rise in production costs, he adds, is “fatally undermining oil company profits, forcing them to announce cut backs in expenditures.”

The fact that the economic calculus of continued oil production is so bad may become the tipping point that leads us into a saner and sustainable energy regime.