Geopolitics of gas

THE Kremlin’s gas squeeze on Ukraine, the transshipment hub of 80 per cent of Western European gas imports, demonstrates that access to natural gas supplies has now emerged as a new dimension of economic and geopolitical conflict.

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Published: Sat 7 Jan 2006, 10:31 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:07 PM

The world’s leading oil companies can no longer find gigantic oil fields like Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar, Alaska’s North Slope or Kuwait’s Burgan to replace the billion odd barrels of black crude they produce each year. No wonder they use their petrodollar war chests to launch takeover bids for natural gas produces like Burlington Resources, in essence, drilling for gas on Wall Street.

The oil super majors now lobby for multi-billion dollar gas deals with the help of the top guns in international politics. When China’s LNG contract to supply Hong Kong and Guangdong province opened, Exxon sent Vice President Dick Cheney, an oilman as the former CEO of Halliburton to lobby Beijing for its Qatar gas. The Australian gas lobby was led by none other than PM John Howard. King Abdullah has personally negotiated with the CEOs of the world’s leading oil companies the logistics of the Saudi Arabian gas initiative. The largest energy project finance deal in the Middle East was the recent 57 bank, $7 billion global syndicated loan to enable Qatar Gas, a joint venture between Doha and Exxon, to supply gas to the UK. Iran’s gas pipeline deals with India and Pakistan and the tortuous politics of Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea consortium, are viewed from the prism of the national security in the White House.

The global energy markets are increasingly repositioned to natural gas, a hydrocarbon that may offset the fragile supply demand equation in crude oil and the pollution of cool. During the California power cut blackouts, even Chairman Greenspan of the Federal Reserve Board suggested that the US expand its LNG import terminals to avoid future energy crisis. Natural gas now powers no less than 50 per cent of American heating oil and electricity. As events as diverse as Qatar’s Ras Laffan, BP’s Siberian gas venture and the doomed Enron project in Maharashtra prove, governments and energy companies are building the infrastructure for LNG that will completely reconfigure the world energy mix. The global hunt for gas is reminiscent of the hunt for oil in the 1930’s with crucial strikes in Saudi Arabia, Iran, West Texas, Mexico and, later, Libya, the North Sea, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Norway and Alaska. Gas fields in Qatar, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Russia, Algeria and Abu Dhabi hold half the global proven reserves, making them the nodal points of the new energy order. As Exxon and Shell’s investments in Qatar or BP’s Russian deals prove, Big Oil is fast transforming itself into Big Gas.

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