Tomdispatch has the first of a series of articles by Pepe Escobar - "Postcards from Pipelinestan" - on oil and the machinations surrounding it. As Tom puts it:

At one point last week, the price of a barrel of crude oil -- which had risen as high as $147 last July and, with the global economic meltdown, hit a low of $32 in 2009 -- rebounded above $51. Prices at the local gas pump are expected to rise as well in the coming weeks. However, given a worldwide falloff in oil use, these price jumps may not hold for long. Still, cheap or not, oil and natural gas (as well as coal) are what drives global civilization, and that's clearly not going to change any time soon.

As an added bonus, following is an extract from a chapter of my thesis on US policy in the ME, this covers a little of the history of efforts to control oil. Given the topic it necessarily from a US perspective:

Early in the 20th Century oil was raised to the status of a vital military and strategic asset and a primary source of energy that would power economic growth. Navies began to convert from coal as the fuel for their vessels and the internal combustion engine led to the increasing development and use of powered military vehicles, such as trucks, armoured cars, aircraft and tanks. Such was the extent of these new uses of oil during World War I that a severe shortage of oil developed in 1917/18.

Britain had gained control of Persia’s oil reserves prior to the war and had made gaining control of other fields, even those as yet unproven such as in Mesopotamia, an aim of the Middle East campaign. The campaign continued through diplomatic, political and commercial methods after the war with France joining Britain in the quest for oil. Immediately after the war, the United States, as producer of 64% of the world’s oil and with access to Mexican reserves was not immediately interested in Middle East oil. However, by 1920 an awareness grew that growing domestic consumption would begin to deplete its existing sources and that major sources outside North America would soon be tied up by foreign interests. This was exampled by the comment of British oilman Sir Edward Mackay Edgar who commented in 1919 “All the known fields, all the likely or probable fields outside of the United States itself, are in British hands or under British management or control, or financed by British capital”. The US became involved in Middle East oil to protect its strategic interests and future industrial growth.

The basis for relations between the major powers in the division of Middle East oil reserves up to the outbreak of World War II was established by the Red Line accord of 1928. Despite protestations to the contrary, the interests of the local peoples do not seem to have been a primary concern, the well-being of the oil companies and the home economies taking priority. Also there were suspicions of the motivations between the participants, the British believed that given the possessive way in which the US treated its dominance of the Americas, that US claims to be promoting the principles of free and open trade were somewhat hypocritical. Likewise, the US believed that through the mandate system and thence in relations with the newly created states Britain was trying to perpetuate a quasi-colonial suzerainty. Given the circumstances of the contemporary situation in the Middle East, at least some of these claims are still being made.

In the post-World War II period a number of factors would cause the process of acquiring Middle East oil to become much more volatile and complex. Amongst these factors were the onset of the Cold War where denying the USSR. access to, much less control of, the oil reserves become a major concern for the West, the changing balance of power between the US and Britain, and the ever-expanding need for oil for military and non-military uses in the post-war economic boom. In the case of the US, the war generated massive expansion of its economy and the depletion of its own reserve made an imperative of gaining access to other sources of oil above and beyond the desires for commercial gain by US oil companies. The aspirations of the oil producing states for greater control of and benefit from their oil reserves, both as a result of natural aspirations and in light of the United Nations principles of self-determination, led to growing tensions between the oil companies and their home states and the oil producers. A major example of these tensions was the case of Iran where political manoeuvring between the concerned parties led in 1953 to the British and US backed coup which replaced the elected leader, Mossadegh, with the returning Shah. Iran became for twenty-six years a major US strategic partner in the region, propped up by US aid and support, including the training of Savak, the Shah’s brutal secret police. The decades of suppression of Iranian independence led to an extreme reaction in 1979 when a fundamentalist Islamic regime replaced the monarchy. This caused a major shift in the balance of power in the region which had serious ongoing consequences for the US and other foreign states.

Iraq had been receiving royalties of just 5% from its oil reserves and in response to a growing dissatisfaction and sense of injustice, nationalised its oil in 1972. Unlike some of its neighbours, and despite some of the less savoury aspects of the governing Ba’ath party, the wealth was shared relatively equally amongst its citizens and public infrastructure was amongst the most advanced in the region.

One of the developments amongst a number of oil producing states was the establishment of OPEC - Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which was designed to dominate the international oil market and thus price levels. Price increases could be made not only for the benefit of its members financially, but also as a political weapon. OPEC oil price increases in 1973 and 1979 caused great consternation in developed economies and made governments aware of the importance of oil to their economies and the dangers of price fluctuations and the future depletion of reserves. There were efforts made to economise on oil consumption as well as to find alternative energy sources. The seriousness of these efforts depended upon the political colour of parties and the nature of their electoral support.

The importance of OPEC has decreased since the oil shocks due to increased oil supplies from non-OPEC countries, such as Russia and in west Africa. Nevertheless, the onset of oil depletion is a matter of great importance and complexity. The complexity comes from factors such as determining what oil reserves remain, the ability to extract them in terms of projected economic or environmental cost and the likely amount of undiscovered reserves. An exposition of these factors can be found in Campbell and Laherre. They explain one factor that is a determinant on the viability of oil fields and the calculations of oil reserves, that is, the Hubbert curve. This postulates that once more than half a region’s crude had been extracted production would decrease. M. King Hubbert used this theory in 1956 to correctly predict that oil from the lower forty-eight US states would peak in 1969. By this method Campbell and Laherrere predict a permanent decline in the world’s oil production within the next ten years. Another proponent of this prediction is Gerald Leach who sets the date of declining production as 2010.

Of particular pertinence to this paper is that the world’s largest known reserves of oil are in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia having approximately 25% of known reserves and Iraq 11%. Iraq has many unexplored fields which could hold much larger reserves possibly matching or even exceeding those of Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s oil production has been limited by damage to its wells suffered in the 1991 Gulf War as well as by the restrictions imposed under the sanctions regime. The US, after deposing the Hussein regime, has proposed an end to the sanctions against Iraq to enable the oil revenues to be used to finance the reconstruction of Iraq. Saudi Arabia is the only other source of oil with spare capacity. Saudi Arabia is seen by many analysts as the key to world oil production, not only due to having the largest proven reserves but also due to having excess production capacity. With the onset of depletion these two states will become increasingly important for the continued access to oil, most particularly from the major oil consumer, the United States.

The United States formalised relations with Saudi Arabia in 1945 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud. Although the details of this meeting have been kept secret it is believed that Roosevelt promised the King protection in exchange for privileged access to Saudi oil. Although Saudi light crude is valued in the US due to its suitability for sophisticated applications such as aircraft fuel, there are other benefits from access to Saudi and other Gulf States oil reserves. One is the continued access to reasonably priced oil for US trading partners such as Japan and Europe and thus the continued well-being of the triad underpinning the international economy, particularly as viewed from a US perspective. A further benefit is that much of the revenue received by the Gulf states returns to the US and other western states in the form of investment and, in particular for the US, Saudi arms purchases. This last item has had mixed results in that extravagant Saudi arms acquisition has caused an imbalance and growing debt in their economy. The US has “propped up” unrepresentative regimes in the Gulf, to the extent of leading the coalition that prosecuted the 1991 Gulf War to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait and protect Saudi Arabia’s oil fields from possible capture by Iraq. Concern for the loss of influence and access to oil should the Islamic Revolution in Iran spread across the region had previously led the US to support Iraq against Iran in their long and bloody war from 1980-88, to the extent of allowing US companies to supply Iraq with technologies, agents and components for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The export of such items by the US and other western states has been the subject of much media attention as well as a Congressional inquiry in 1994. Continued US involvement and interference in the politics of the Gulf can have deleterious effects as outlined by Mamoud Fandy, long before September 11 :
Uncritical U.S. support for autocratic Gulf monarchies and their human rights abuses have weakened both U.S. policy and the oil regimes. It undermines U.S. policy by demonstrating the hypocrisy in American rhetoric about democracy and human rights and weakens the regimes by creating the perception among Gulf subjects that their countries are being ruled in the interests of an outside power.

There is another reason some assert for US interest in influencing at least, if not dominating , access to Middle East and other oil reserves, that is the denial of oil to its perceived enemies. Declassified documents reveal a policy of denial of oil to the Soviet Union in the early Cold War years. In 1949 the US developed plans to destroy Middle East oil fields if there was a threat that the Soviet Union would capture them. Radiological weapons were considered and rejected as explained in NSC 26/3, dated June 29, 1950:

'Denial of the wells by radiological means can be accomplished to prevent an enemy from utilizing the oil fields, but could not prevent him from forcing “expendable” Arabs to enter contaminated areas to open well heads and deplete the reservoirs. Therefore, aside from other effects on the Arab population, it is not considered that radiological means are practicable as a conservation measure.'

Bizarre as this scenario might seem it illustrates the lengths to which the US has contemplated going to protect its strategic interests as embodied in the continued access to oil at economically sustainable prices for itself and its allies and trading partners and the denial of oil to its perceived enemies. Energy security continues to be a basic element of US policy as detailed in the so-called Bush Doctrine. The depletion of the world’s oil reserves only adds urgency and emphasis on this aspect of US strategic policy.

The Great Game continues, as Pepe writes:

What happens on the immense battlefield for the control of Eurasia will provide the ultimate plot line in the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order, also known as the New Great Game.

Our good ol' friend the nonsensical "Global War on Terror," which the Pentagon has slyly rebranded "the Long War," sports a far more important, if half-hidden, twin -- a global energy war. I like to think of it as the Liquid War, because its bloodstream is the pipelines that crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet. Put another way, if its crucial embattled frontier these days is the Caspian Basin, the whole of Eurasia is its chessboard. Think of it, geographically, as Pipelineistan.

Further instalments as they appear. As well as other relevant material.


  1. Pipelineistan ... catchy phrase!

    As we all know, transporting oil and gas by sea is a very vulnerable method of supply.

    It is easy to bury a pipeline underground to protect it somewhat and much easier to replace a length of pipeline than an oil tanker ...

    ... and of the big 4 players in the new Great Game only one has no land access to larger 'reserves' of what's left of the current key energy sources.

  2. Two paras from Pepe:

      «How could Russia, China, and Iran not interpret the war in Kosovo, then the invasion of Afghanistan (where Washington had previously tried to pair with the Taliban and encourage the building of another of those avoid-Iran, avoid-Russia pipelines), followed by the invasion of Iraq (that country of vast oil reserves), and finally the recent clash in Georgia (that crucial energy transportation junction) as straightforward wars for Pipelineistan?
    The New Great Game ensured that that was not to be, and much followed from that decision. Even though Moscow never planned to occupy Georgia long-term in its 2008 war, or take over the BTC pipeline that now runs through its territory, Alfa Bank oil and gas analyst Konstantin Batunin pointed out the obvious: by briefly cutting off the BTC oil flow, Russian troops made it all too clear to global investors that Georgia wasn't a reliable energy transit country. In other words, the Russians made a mockery of Zbig's world.»


    Now, perhaps Pepe wears a tin-foil hat - or maybe not. It's not the first time we've heard ' pipeline' in connection with Afghanistan (carpet of gold/bombs) and we *ALL* know about murder for oil in Iraq... but now we see that all was not quite 'as described' in the hideous (also illegal) war in the FYRs either. Until the viciously illegal invasion of Iraq, now morphed into equally brutal occupation, I - and sooo many more around the world - weren't paying too much attention. Now we are, and have 'noted' the Israeli depredations too. "W's" imbecilic incompetence wasn't all 'show.'

  3. IDH - "and sooo many more around the world ...". Indeed, hundreds of bases, covert ops, interference, etc., apart from the overt invasions. There's an empire to build, a voracious machine to feed, power to be had.

    Pepe Escobar on the current focus - AfPak.

    Tom Engelhardt.

    And Chris Floyd with a "hypothetical": "Darkness Renewed - Terror as a Tool of Empire."

  4. "an empire to build, a voracious machine to feed, power to be had"

    There's a group of related articles I noticed yesterday; counterpunch published Chris Floyd who cited antiwar's publishing of the TomD item by Tom Engelhardt, the one cited above by Bob (g'day!) Then the circle was completed by c-f citing this Hudson, on counterpunch.

    I regard the Hudson as a critical component in understanding the deep s**t the world is in.

  5. Hmmm, I like Hudson's Q: Which will be the first European country, besides Russia, to join the SCO?

    Belarus has already applied for observer status, and Ukraine is an EurAsEC observer that may move toward SCO membership in time; but I suppose Hudson actually means which EU countries would defect or try to bridge both bodies?

    Any ideas?

  6. Given that every recently 'liberated' European country seems to be queuing up to get into NATO, that even the cheese-eating surrender monkey France wants back in, etc. then the idea of anyone 'silly' enough to risk the wrath of the US is - well - ummm, either unimaginable or outright impossible. What Hudson shows is the incredible breadth and depth of the looting of the world by the US, and the better question is why do all these countries tolerate it, let alone seemingly seek it?

  7. And more from Pepe Escobar - "Pipelineistan goes Iran-Pak". That's IPI without one I, but the game is far from over.

  8. wouldn't it be funny (It's a gas! - CNG/LPG)

     .. if China - scooped the pool?


    Well; perhaps not quite so funny at all, really; if China wins, generally, 'the West' will probably lose.

    News 'stories:' bombs going off, all over "AfPak."

    Q: Who wins, who loses? (i.e. Cui Bono?)

    A: I'm inclined to put most - if not all - of these wicked, almost exclusively *INNOCENT CIVILIAN* killing bombs, down to US/CIA covert operations.


    What we see, is the so-called 'great game.' At base ('base,' as in low, lower - lowest) is that the US seems *never* to enter into any so-called 'free' market; it always goes for the business jugular - i.e. monopoly. (And, from monopoly, they then proceed to rip us, we the sheople, off. Boo! Hiss!) Q: Why else is it invading Afghanistan (pipeline), or Iraq (oil?) A: Silly question. Then Pakistan; 'merely' because the US is failing in Afghanistan?


    Here is some 'news:'

    China Business
    Jun 9, 2009
    West and Russia spar, China wins
    By M K Bhadrakumar
      «China is proceeding according to a set agenda. Beijing steers clear of the shrill rhetoric of the Caspian Great Game that we constantly hear from the US, EU and Russian capitals. Nor has Beijing any use of the extravaganza of "energy summits" that the EU specializes in. Certainly, Chinese diplomacy in the Caspian never brags about its success stories. It is secretive, result-oriented and purposive. The most fascinating part is that Beijing is not indulging in one-upmanship - at least, openly. It knows Central Asians respect discretion. It doesn't speak disparagingly of either the Russians or the Europeans and the Americans.» 

    Bon reading.


    PS Will Obama&Co continue to threaten "All options!" at Iran?

    Q: If not, why not? (A: Haw, Haw, Haw.)

    Q: Then, where would that leave the I/J/Z/plex? (A: Haw, Haw, Haw. For ever - Oooh, it hurts!)

  9. gaseous 'whisperings' ...

     .. from the dark side?

       .. G'day again Bob.


    Central Asia
    Jun 10, 2009
    Turkey steps on the gas
    By Vladimir Socor
      «It might also discourage Turkmenistan from seeking access to Europe via Turkey as an alternative to the Russian monopsony[1]. Ankara's reluctance to provide fair transit for Azerbaijani gas, and its apparent choice of strategic partnership with Russia, could also result in Turkmenistan's continued isolation from Europe. This is equally detrimental to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and European countries in their common goal - supported by the EU - to establish direct commercial relations between gas producers and consumers.» 

    Here is a possible reason for Turkey's reluctance: «... for which Turkey pays a preposterous price of US$120 per 1,000 cubic meters under a 2001 agreement with Azerbaijan.» [ibid.]

    Then there's the 'of course' reason that Turkey has been trying to wriggle into the EU for ages.


    The author's 'bio' suggest 'dark side' to me.

    Care to comment as to how any/all of this stacks up against TAPI & IPI etc.?



    [1] monopsony
    (in economics) A situation in which there is a single buyer (a monopsonist) in the market for a particular good or service. This may be compared with monopoly, where there is a single seller. Monopsony power is the ability to affect price through buying power. An example of a monopsonistic market is that of defence equipment, where most sales are to one buyer, the national government. [Oxford Pop-up]

  10. A complex Great Game being complicated even more by players trying to get a slice but risking ruining their chances. The Russians are making lots of promises to promote their agenda and some are failing to see the risk in believing them.

    From Tomdispatch Michael Klare on oil supplies, diminishing, that is.

  11. The Great Game continues - divide and rule ... a two-parter from Pepe on where the Afpak theatre sits:

    Welcome to Pashtunistan;

    Breaking up is (not) hard to do.

  12. As I have mentioned the war, so does Chris Floyd - with references to Silber, Cole, Horton ... but most especially Silber.

  13. Whither America's schemes? The turn of the year and not looking good for them. What of sanctions against Iran? Some have interests ....

    The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran's northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan's vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is "apocalypse now" for the Islamic regime in Tehran.

    The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony

    The game goes on and the uS is not doing well. So what will they do next?

    Beware the waning hegemon.

  14. beware the waning hegemon - coercion, subversion, corruption [part 1]

    .. The US made a BIG mistake ...

      .. when it chose empire by force of arms ...

        .. and its illegitimate sprog chose murder for spoil


    Preamble: Nice one from atimes/MKB; g'day, Bob - and thanks. From your headline article: «"a series of articles by Pepe Escobar - "Postcards from Pipelinestan" - on oil and the machinations surrounding it."» To oil, of course, we have to add gas.


    We define a war as being over when the aggressor is defeated. For WW2, we have the German and Japanese surrenders - but between those two, a few other key dates. On August 6 and 9, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. (These are and remain the worst and most gruesome war crimes, ever.) Then there was the Potsdam conference, July 17 to August 2. The Trinity test was conducted on July 16, and Truman, once he heard the news ... would later say he had "an ace in the hole and an ace showing." WW3 began the precise moment when: «Truman approached Stalin at the Potsdam conference and very casually said to Stalin that he had this new weapon.»

    I mentioned the US' illegitimate sprog; its war - which could be termed WW4 (because it's precisely Zs against the rest) - began with UN181. (One proof that it's Zs against *all* the rest is USS Liberty.)

    The two aggressors US & Israel are yet to be defeated; WW3 and WW4 continue. WW4 is primarily a genocide against the Palestinian people in order to steal Lebensraum, since the topic is 'Pipelinestan' we can be put the hideous Zs aside for the moment.

    [end preamble]


    The US runs WW3 on two levels; the shouted obvious = what they say, and the less obvious = what they do. Part of what they do - as much as possible - is deliberately hidden, cue CIA (secret! psyop, false flag & black) operations.

    The shouted obvious is more often than not (filthy!) lies, referred to by me as the pushed-propaganda paradigm.

    The US has ostensible 'enemies,' which/who can and do change from time to time. Almost from time immemorial, the US has *hated/feared* communism; but really, its 'enemies' are mostly what *normal* people would term 'competitors.' Since Russia declined as a threat/competitor, so the US has turned increasingly on Islam.

    The US, with about 5% of world's pop. consumes about 25% of world's resources; this is unsustainable on both equity and capacity grounds.

    [to be continued]

  15. beware the waning hegemon - coercion, subversion, corruption [part 2]

    Three snips:

    MemoPPS23 28 Feb '48
      «Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.» 

    Comment: They set out to maintain their disparity primarily by force of arms from at least Potsdam; See Blum's "Rogue State," "Killing Hope;" Perkins' "Economic Hit Man," Klein's "Shock Doctrine."

    China resets terms of engagement in Central Asia
    Dec 24, 2009
      «From Ashgabat's point of view, China's interest in comprehensive engagement with the Turkmen political economy stands in contrast with the predatory instincts of the Western companies that zero in on the mineral industry with maniacal zeal 
    [atimes/Bhadrakumar ]

    Comment: My bold; interpret as 'mercilessly rip-off.'

    “Smart power” and “bear traps” in the Hindu Kush
      «China, which was an accomplice of the Americans in the great Afghan jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet Union, would also know that the US has incredible methods of “synergizing” militant Islam – ..» 
    [ICH/fondsk/Bhadrakumar ]

    Comment: My bold; interpret as 'coerce, subvert, corrupt & foment.'


    Fazit: The US has continuously expanded its (evil!) influence beyond its borders, beyond the WW2 demarcations, as has Israel beyond UN181, where the US is basically after resources (oil, gas & associated pipeline routes) and the Zs mostly steal (Palestinian!) land.

    Both the US and Zs 'get away with it' only by pushing lies, threatening and coercing so-called *friends* as well as 'enemies,' ripping all and sundry off and physically attacking when all else fails, see Blum, Perkins & Klein et al., see Iran ('53), see South America, see down to Iraq, AfPak and "All Options!" vis-à-vis Iran (again? No, still.) The list of US depredations is looong.

    It's the task of decent people everywhere to resist and roll-back the murdering US & Z predators. Mrs Merkel, say - are you listening? (Fat chance. Oh, well - to the barricades?)