Oil grab may lead to violence, says study

Oct. 28, 2010 at 3:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Oil politics have changed dramatically with the rise of major producers and exporters outside OPEC, increasing the risk of violence among nations that export or consume large quantities of crude oil, a new study said.

"Seizing Power: The Grab for Global Oil Wealth -- How Oil Volatility May Lead to Violence Among Oil Powers," by Robert Slater, argued volatility and uncertainty of global supplies of crude oil was a recipe for conflict.

He called nation states willing to use oil as a weapon "petroaggressors" with Russia top of the list. He said other nations, including Iran and Venezuela, were using oil as a weapon in global politics.

As oil dwindles, these "outlaw nations" may turn upon one another in the fight for what oil is left, Slater argued.

"Seizing Power: The Grab for Global Oil Wealth," published by Wiley, argues oil was "toxic" to world stability and introduced elements of uncertainty and exposed consumer nations to manipulative politics by oil producers.

Slater cited predictions that crude oil prices could climb to $150-$200 a barrel within two years as growth in supply fails to keep pace with increased demand from developing countries.

The price forecast was made in a 2008 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysis that said, "The possibility of $150–$200 per barrel seems increasingly likely over the next six

to 24 months, though predicting the ultimate peak in oil prices as well as the remaining duration of the upcycle remains a major uncertainty."

Slater said not enough was being done to forestall global instability resulting from oil price spikes.

"The solutions proposed so far -- from "gas-tax holidays" to presidential requests to the Saudis to increase supply -- have been only Band-Aids, not long-term solutions, and the proposed reasons for rising oil prices have been controversial: Was it the Arabs, acting as a greedy cartel?

"Was it the 2 billion Chinese and Indians whose burgeoning middle classes were placing unsustainable demands on scarce supplies?"

Slater asked, "Was it some sort of satanic lobbying on the part of big Western oil companies against alternative-energy programs? Was it Wall Street speculators? What would the inflated oil prices do to economies already nearly down for the count from the subprime credit crisis?"

He said the West's ally Saudi Arabia was one of a few exceptions that hadn't used oil as a weapon of aggression but others had either become or were in the process of becoming "petroaggressors."

Slater argued the balance of oil power is shifting away from the United States and the Arab states toward national oil companies in Russia, China and some emerging economies in Africa and South America.

"As developing countries seek a middle-class existence, their demand for oil grows exponentially, causing oil prices to spiral, turning some into international bullies. Until another fuel is found the world risks being at the mercy of these tyrants whose insatiable appetites for higher oil prices heighten competition and spur the threat of violence, domestic as well as global."

The populist and provocative tone of Slater's arguments has had little reaction yet from the market where traders cite a more complex scene, with new oil emerging in nations pragmatic in their dealings with the West and concerned with financing their economic advancement with increased oil revenues.

In Thursday's trading, crude oil prices rose modestly overnight despite a rise in U.S. stockpiles, the price for December delivery topping $82 per barrel in New York.

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