Letter to the New York Times 9/27/2001

An Oil War Coming?

By Greg Moses

Paul Krugman, in a New York Times column Wednesday (Sept. 26) insists that, "this is not a war on behalf of the oil companies; it's not even a war on behalf of S.U.V.'s and McMansions." The coming oil war, says Krugman, is over a natural resource that is more vital than any corporation's profits or anyone's luxurious consumption. Oil, argues Krugman, is a national priority.

"It's true that oil is part of the backstory to the terrorist attack," concedes Krugman. And oil is a "flashpoint" on the strategic field before us. But Krugman asks us not to bicker amongst ourselves about whose oil is at stake, because everyone needs it now. Krugman is getting ready for war, and he urges a unified war effort. So the war is not about elite oil, says Krugman, it's about our oil.

If this is a war about my oil, however, there are a few questions I want to ask.

First of all, I want to know at what point did it become an oil war? I heard it was a war for freedom, then a war against terrorism, and later a war for justice. Now Krugman assures me this is a war about my oil.

Second, I want to know why this war was declared within a week of the announcement that Chevron and Texaco had been cleared for merger by the Federal Trade Commission. "ChevronTexaco will have a combined enterprise market value of more than $100 billion, assets of $83 billion, net proved reserves of 11.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), daily production of 2.7 million BOE and operations throughout the world," boasts the press release of Sept. 7.

Among the global assets counted in the ChevronTexaco merger is a 45 percent interest in 9 billion barrels of reserves in the Tengiz oil field of Kazakhstan, not very far from Afghanistan. ExxonMobil owns a 25 percent interest in the Tengiz field, bringing total US shares to 70 percent of the recoverable reserves. The Center for Public Integrity reports the area has been of longstanding interest to Vice President Dick Cheney who once served on the Kazakhstan Oil Advisory Board, along with executives from Chevron and Texaco.

As the reflexes of US power flex toward Central Asia during this national emergency, I want to be clear about the interests that direct them. If this is an oil war, why don't they tell us?

Third, I want to know if the rapid transformation of this war into an oil war is connected to the fact that Afghanistan's outlaw government has been blocking plans for a pipeline that would move Central Asia's oil and gas to the coast of the Arabian Sea.

According to a Department of Energy report that was posted on the web in December, 2000: "Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea." But Afghanistan's potential as a pipeline country lies unfulfilled. As the DOE report explains, "Unocal had previously stressed that the Centgas pipeline project would not proceed until an internationally recognized government was in place in Afghanistan."

"Besides the gas pipeline," says the DOE report, "Unocal also had considered building a 1,000-mile, 1-million barrel-per-day (bbl/d) capacity oil pipeline that would link Chardzou, Turkmenistan to Pakistan's Arabian Sea Coast via Afghanistan. Since the Chardzou refinery is already linked to Russia's Western Siberian oil fields, this line could provide a possible alternative export route for regional oil production from the Caspian Sea. The $2.5-billion pipeline is known as the Central Asian Oil Pipeline Project. For a variety of reasons, including high political risk and security concerns, however, financing for this project remains highly uncertain."

For the moment, I have one more question to ask. I want to know why a top American defense official meeting with NATO defense ministers earlier this week was unable to say who has been identified as mastermind of the World Trade Center massacre of Sept. 11. This puzzles me, because the top defense minister in the United States has been telling me for nearly two weeks that he knows who is behind the attack and that he has evidence in hand. This is the same evidence, presumably, that will soon be used to justify our new war for oil.

Our President warned us that the war to come would be a different kind of war, but I wonder. Indeed, as Paul Krugman has been helpful to warn us, this war is beginning to look like an old-fashioned war for oil.

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