Since the world has decided that fossil fuels are all right after all – until it looks like we’ve run out of the stuff again – the fact that the US is on the brink of self-sufficiency should be good news – right? Well, not exactly.
It’s certainly not in Canada which is the US leading source of oil. It’s not for Russia who had hoped to get into the American market with its huge Bazhenov reservoir. And it’s not for many countries in what we call the Middle East which now stretches from Morocco to and including Pakistan.
The problem, «fracking», involves drilling a vertical pipe up to more than a mile deep then highly toxic water under great pressure. Is and gas trapped between layers of shale is then pumped to the surface.
This means that there are new areas recovering petroleum – Australia for example – and, of course, in the United States. This technique has caught the world by surprise especially in America whose important import partners will soon be out of business.
My own country, Canada, is whistling past the graveyard as it sees its markets crumble. Many say that the highly toxic Bitumen from the Tar Sands will no longer have a market and that the only way natural gas will be viable is through LNG (liquefied natural gas) sales to China but as China discovers and uses its own fracking probabilities, even that will dry up.
Canada has singled out a half dozen «fracking» sites but aside from needs from the domestic market they will remain unexploited not least because the price of gas will go too low to warrant development. British Columbia, where I live, which gets its largest source of income from natural gas, has all but lost its American customer and overseas markets. As the price of gas goes down, the demand will for all intents and purposes evaporate and its hopes for LNG will disappear as China finds and uses he product of their own fracking exploration – a high priority of Beijing.
The area of most concern is the Middle East, for in a strange way, shortage of oil has kept the region relatively peaceful. Even in this area, marketing partners are less likely to go to war with each other.
I unblushingly remind readers that I have long asserted that we should be careful what we ask for and that today’s bad and scary governments may well be replaced with even worse in terms of their foreign affairs. We see an excellent of what I mean in the attitude in the new Egyptian government towards Israel. The 1979 treaty is in trouble as Egypt is much more involved in Gaza and the Hamas government.
The question is, of course, what will happen when the oil kings suddenly have no money to buy peace? When assessing this it must be remembered that it’s not just Islam fighting the «West», but Shia opposed to Sunni and that the Syrian struggle, for example is not just with Al-Assad but as a proxy war between factions. While no one could approve of Saddam Hussein, he did at least stabilize Iraq.
To get down to basics, we have in the Middle East, a four pronged budding crisis, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. Israel has nuclear weapons, Iran will soon have them and the royal family in Arabia are not long for this world.
My crystal ball tells me that Egypt will end the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Saudi Arabia will be governed by Wahabbi militants, and Iran will become a nuclear power with eyes on Israel which will continue to build, provocatively, settlements on occupied land.
What will the US do? The better question is what can the US do?
This is not like Afghanistan which is bad enough but impossible to invade and conquer; it’s not like Iraq where there was no support from any of the factions. Here the US has left a highly unstable mess; which will return to haunt them.
Surely, no one would suggest that the US would invade either Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Yet the lack of US will to intervene will encourage radical Islam to extend their reach and look to create yet more theocratic regimes.
The main target in the Middle East, tolerated at best by some nations, hatred with a passion by others, is Israel. With US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq ending, there will be no American soldiers close at hand leaving Israel alone to defend itself.
This is a far more dangerous position than pre 1979 when Israel’s principal enemies – that is enemies well enough armed to cause trouble are Egypt, back in the anti-Israel mode, Saudi Arabia, even if the Royal family is still there, will no longer be restrainable by oil sales to America, and once Syria is settled down, presumably as an Islam state, Israel has more and better armed enemies and no friends.
The reason that Saudi Arabia is such a problem is that even if it can adjust to loss of markets for oil, the opposition Wahabbi activists will be breathing down the governments neck with much greater public support assuming that there will no more, or less, free education and health care, the two commodities that keeps them subdued.
The scary thing is that in this mix Iran will become nuclear armed facing off with Israel. What the US will bank on is division on the question of religion and a moderating factor in Turkey.
The first is weakened by the fact that both Shia and Sunni hate Israel with a passion while Turkey is inching towards an Islam state and if its government doesn’t stand with its brethren, opposition pressure at home to make it more theocratic.
Underlying this is the fact that no country in the «west» has any goodwill in the Middle East – in fact, there has been enmity of varying intensity going back to the Crusades. This is important because however we may wish it to be otherwise, ethnicity never dies. One need only look at the break-up of Yugoslavia to demonstrate that point.
Last, we don’t know what, if any role China, now a bigger and bigger player in Africa including Muslim areas, is going to play; and we don’t know what role Russia with the huge population of Muslims in the former eastern republics as well as Russia itself, will play. Also we don’t have any read on what will happen in Pakistan or even the biggest Muslim country of all-, Indonesia.
One hates end on a pessimistic note but it is very difficult to scan the potential and have anything optimistic to say.