USA vs. Turkey: «Energy Wars» Battlefront News (I)

USA vs. Turkey: «Energy Wars» Battlefront News (I)

Global energy wars keep on raging on. Those in the West who wish Russia ill have suffered a major setback. Millions of barrels of untapped oil that U.S. shale drillers discovered during the boom years are about to disappear from their inventories as a result of falling oil prices caused, among other things, by the policy pursued by Saudi Arabia, the US main ally in the Middle East.  

What does it mean in practice? According to Bloomberg, more than 5, 4 billion barrels are attributed to the wells that don’t exist yet.  It could easily be 15 or 20 years before some of these wells get drilled if prices stay at these levels. It results in stagnation of US shale gas production with small and medium companies suffering losses. The situation makes Washington and its allies review the current energy (and not energy only) policy.  

The hype surrounding shale gas production started in 2008. Since then all proved reserves of oil and natural gas liquids found by US companies have reached 9, 7 billion barrels. 

Undrilled prospects have always been part of oil companies’ inventories. The untapped resources are viewed by investors and lenders as a sign of a company’s growth potential. According to Bloomberg, it helped the industry attract more than $230 billion in bonds, loans and share sales since 2008. The shale boom has pushed U.S. oil production to the highest in about 50 years and slashed the country’s reliance on imported fuel. [1]

Some US shale gas producers resorted to tricks. Devon and Chesapeake were among the first companies to unlock oil and gas trapped in deep underground layers of shale. As the shale revolution started the oil industry argued that these techniques made shale formations predictable across wide expanses, and that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should allow the untapped wells further from producing properties should still count as proved. Until 2008 only wells on the verge of exploitation had considered to be such. The companies harbored great aspirations to get them involved in vibrant lobbying activities. It brought results. Eventually, the regulator agreed to consider proved the reserves that could be extracted without inflicting any losses on producers. Undrilled prospects have become a much larger share since the SEC changed the rules. Undeveloped properties account for 43 percent of proved reserves for the 44 companies, the data show, up from 26 percent at the end of 2008. And there was a catch in agreement reached with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: to count the undrilled properties as proved reserves, the companies had to tap them within five years or erase them from their books. Now, as oil prices go down, US companies fail to comply.  

As a result, the world may see the decline of what is nowadays called the “shale revolution”. The shale bubble may burst.  It will inevitably strike European countries, politicians and companies that counted on geopolitical changes to be brought about by the United States taking the place of Russia as the main energy supplier. 

All told, no wonder Europeans become more inclined to take part in Russia-sponsored energy projects. 

Harboring plans to participate in the Turkish Stream pipeline project, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania have already discussed the prospects for Eastring, a pipeline project for Central and South-Eastern Europe, that could be used as part of new route to supply Europe with Russian gas. The project is initiated by Eastream, a Slovak gas pipeline operator. Mirek Topolánek, Head of International Development and Public Affairs of Eastream said: “We propose a project which offers direct and cost-effective bi-directional transmission route between Turkey and the rest of the Europe. This project will be able to transport natural gas from different areas and alternative sources – it will bring gas from Turkish border to Europe and also from liquid European gas hubs to Turkey. In the same time it will provide South-Eastern Europe with gas from the European gas hubs. By offering the opportunity for diversification of transmission routes as well as supply sources the project enhances the security of supply, especially in the countries of the South-eastern Europe. All these highlight the strategic nature of the Eastring project.” [2]

European gas consumers and Turkey, a state playing a key role in the would-be gas supply project, will be the ones to directly influence the situation on the battlefields of raging “energy wars”. 

The United States is pursuing its own geopolitical and global economic goals.  It makes Washington seek weak points to frustrate the Turkish Stream project trying to make a cat's paw of somebody else so that it could avoid a direct conflict with Turkey which is too important being a leading Middle East actor.

The United States contributes into destabilization of Macedonia, a potential transit country on the way of future gas pipeline. Besides, the United States is increasing pressure on Greece.  Amos Hochstein, the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs leading the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) at the U.S. Department of State, visited Greece to openly call on its government to refuse participation in the Turkish Stream. According to him, the project does not take into account the financial needs of Greece and makes no contribution into promoting the country’s investment attractiveness. Nonetheless, it is well known that energy projects normally   bring in high profits, create new working places and ensure profits from transit levies. That is exactly what Greece needs now more than ever.  

The Turkish leading media outlets are unanimous in their opinion that the pressure exerted by Washington on Athens testifies to the fact that the US administration goes to any length to frustrate Russian gas supplies to Europe. That’s what it uses the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), a project that faced great challenges   even at the initial phase as it lacked suppliers to fill the pipe. [3] According to Turkish media, the USA is exasperated with the Russia’s plans to make its gas routes go around Ukraine depriving Kiev (and also Washington) of its role as a “regulator” of Moscow-Brussels relationship. It makes Barack Obama’s administration to seek ways to “weaken the positions” of Russia on other fronts of “energy war”. [4]

Many Turkish experts believe that the Turkish Stream project has a great chance to be implemented. [5] It is at least too early to say that TANAP constitutes a serious alternative to the Turkish Stream pipeline project. According to Turkish Dünya, the implementation of the Russian-Turkish project will bring Russian gas to the threshold of Europe. Actually, there will be no need for other pipelines. The newspaper believes that in perspective the Turkish Stream project can encompass the entire Middle East. Sooner or later, Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli and Greek gas will have to go through the projected hub to be built at the border between Greece and Turkey.

(To be continued)


[3] Milliyet, 05.21.2015
[4] Dünya, 05. 21.2015
Author: Peotr Iskenderov, PH.D., senior research fellow at the Institute of Slavic Studies, the Russian Academy of Sciences, international   news reporter, Rossiya Segodnya news agency.