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Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy

It’s easy for small news items to get lost amid the noise of the news cycle. Two stories I recently came across that piqued my interest have gotten almost no major media attention save for one or two easily missed articles.

The first is an analysis by Robert Rapier, a chemical engineer and executive in the energy industry. His piece The World’s Most Productive Oil Field  (Jan. 3, 2019) provides a compelling argument that, contrary to popular wisdom and general consensus, the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia will not be the world’s most productive oil field for long. Instead, Rapier believes that the Permian Basin in West Texas, which is currently experiencing a boom due to shale deposits now being exploited by fracking, is likely to take over the world’s top spot.

It’s hard to argue with Rapier’s logic. After plateauing in the mid-1970s, the Permian Basin (PB) has exploded with the introduction of fracking. In 2010, PB finally  exceeded one million barrels per day (BPD), which is roughly half of the two million BPD level of the 1970s.  For many, this was an unexpected development as conventional wisdom had been that the Texas oil boom was merely a chapter in history, part of a bygone era of wild west oil speculation. However, by the end of 2018, production has reached nearly 4 million BPD (3.8 mil BPD to be precise).

I recommend people read Rapier’s piece in its entirety as I’m not going to summarize all his data and conclusions here. Suffice to say that Rapier, a highly respected voice in the energy industry, presents a well-researched case that not only has PB become one of the most important oil fields in the world, its output is likely to continue growing considering the sheer number of drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells in the region.

It’s also important to note that the US Geological Survey (USGS) “estimated mean of undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the Permian basin are 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 Tcf of natural gas (17.5 times higher than the 2016 estimate!), and 19.9 billion barrels of NGLs [natural gas liquids].”  In short, this means centuries worth of oil and gas at current production rates! It’s rather mind-boggling considering what we know about climate change and carbon emissions.

The second story that caught my attention was U.S. Army Joins Race To Expand U.S. Oil Exports (Jan. 8, 2019). In brief, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $93 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (GLDD) to deepen and widen the ship channel at the Port of Corpus Christi. The expansion of the port is estimated to cost $326 million, with the GLDD project set to be started in the first part of this year with a completion date in 2020.

The scope of the project, and the speed with which it is projected to be completed indicate just how important this massive undertaking is to the US Army, and the oil and gas companies salivating over it.

According to energy analyst David Blackmon, it’s obvious that there is massive corporate and political pressure behind the expansion of the port as evidenced by the $130 million being shelled out by the port authority, and the promise of huge federal funding (more on that in a minute). With the expanded port, Corpus Christi will soon be able to accommodate the new generation of oil tankers – the so-called Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) – which will allow exporters to rake in profits hand over fist as they send US-produced energy all over the world.

Considering the rapid expansion of port and pipeline infrastructure, it’s clear that energy executives and the federal government are banking on US dominance in oil production as a long-term trend. What does this mean for all of us?

First and foremost is the fact that rapid transformation of the economy away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable alternatives is an absolute necessity given the climate catastrophe awaiting humanity. This makes these revelations about the direction of US production seem downright suicidal for civilization as we know it as the sociopaths in the ruling class seek to fiddle as loudly as possible while Rome burns.

Second is how this impacts foreign policy and the posture of the Empire around the world. Given that much of US foreign policy post-1945 has been centered on energy, it is fair to say that US self-reliance in that sphere would fundamentally alter the balance of power in regions like the Middle East, South China Sea, Arctic, Latin America, and elsewhere.

With a domestic source as abundant as the PB, the Empire’s strategic planners will now see allies such as Saudi Arabia as much more expendable, with adversaries like Venezuela and Iran also increasingly expendable, thereby significantly raising the danger of either military interventions or, perhaps more likely, purely political calculations that will not need to factor in potential economic harm. This frees up the imperial minds from the burden of blowback and unintended economic consequences. That could be trouble for Venezuela, Iran, et al who will no longer be able to rely on global economic pressures to restrain the imperial juggernaut.

No doubt, Donald Trump and his ilk are well aware of these facts, which is perhaps one of the reasons the federal government is so willing to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the expansion of this oil export infrastructure.

Climate change is fake news! Production and economic growth are the only things that matter.

So sayeth Donald Trump and His Merry Band of Ecocidal Degenerates. The question now is whether or not they’re signing the death warrants for billions of us.

This piece originally appeared for Eric Draitser’s patrons on Jan. 18, 2019. Become a patron at patreon.com/ericdraitser

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Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

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