Saturday, October 13, 2012

Syria, Turkey, Israel and a Greater Middle East Energy War

Syria, Turkey, Israel and a Greater Middle East Energy War
By F. William Engdahl *                                                   10 October 2012
Note ; For map see,
On October 3, 2012 the Turkish military launched repeated mortar shellings inside Syrian territory. The military action, which was used by the Turkish military, conveniently, to establish a ten-kilometer wide no-man's land "buffer zone" inside Syria, was in response to the alleged killing by Syrian armed forces of several Turkish civilians along the border. There is widespread speculation that the one Syrian mortar that killed five Turkish civilians well might have been fired by Turkish-backed opposition forces intent on giving Turkey a pretext to move militarily, in military intelligence jargon, a 'false flag' operation.[i]
Turkey's Muslim Brotherhood-friendly Foreign Minister, the inscrutable Ahmet Davutoglu, is the government's main architect of Turkey's self-defeating strategy of toppling its former ally Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.[ii]
According to one report since 2006 under the government of Islamist Sunni Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his pro-Brotherhood AKP party, Turkey has become a new center for the Global Muslim Brotherhood.[iii] A well-informed Istanbul source relates the report that before the last Turkish elections, Erdogan's AKP received a "donation" of $10 billion from the Saudi monarchy, the heart of world jihadist Salafism under the strict fundamentalist cloak of Wahabism. [iv] Since the 1950's when the CIA brought leading members in exile of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to Saudi Arabia there has been a fusion between the Saudi brand of Wahabism and the aggressive jihadist fundamentalism of the Brotherhood.[v]
The Turkish response to the single Syrian mortar shell, which was met with an immediate Syrian apology for the incident, borders on a full-scale war between two nations which until last year were historically, culturally, economically and even in religious terms, closest of allies. 
That war danger is ever more serious. Turkey is a full member of NATO whose charter explicitly states, an attack against one NATO state is an attack against all. The fact that nuclear-armed Russia and China both have made defense of the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime a strategic priority puts the specter of a World War closer than most of us would like to imagine.
In a December 2011 analysis of the competing forces in the region, former CIA analyst Philip Giraldi made the following prescient observation:
NATO is already clandestinely engaged in the Syrian conflict, with Turkey taking the lead as U.S. proxy. Ankara's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has openly admitted that his country is prepared to invade as soon as there is agreement among the Western allies to do so. The intervention would be based on humanitarian principles, to defend the civilian population based on the "responsibility to protect" doctrine that was invoked to justify Libya. Turkish sources suggest that intervention would start with creation of a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border and then be expanded. Aleppo, Syria's largest and most cosmopolitan city, would be the crown jewel targeted by liberation forces.
Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi's arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi's army. Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers. [vi]
Little noted was the fact that at the same day as Turkey launched her over-proportional response in the form of a military attack on Syrian territory, one which was still ongoing as of this writing, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) undertook what was apparently an action to divert Syria's attention from Turkey and to create the horror scenario of a two-front war just as Germany faced in two world wars. The IDF made a significant troop buildup on the strategic Golan Heights bordering the two countries, which, since Israel took it in the 1967 war, has been an area of no tension.[vii]
The unfolding new phase of direct foreign military intervention by Turkey, supported de facto by Israel's right-wing Netanyahu regime, curiously enough follows to the letter a scenario outlined by a prominent Washington neo-conservative Think Tank, The Brookings Institution. In their March 2012 strategy white paper, Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change, Brookings geo-political strategists laid forth a plan to misuse so-called humanitarian concern over civilian deaths, as in Libya in 2011, to justify an aggressive military intervention into Syria, something not done before this.[viii]
The Brookings report states the following scenario:
Israel could posture forces on or near the Golan Heights and, in so doing, might divert regime forces from suppressing the opposition. This posture may conjure fears in the Assad regime of a multi-front war, particularly if Turkey is willing to do the same on its border and if the Syrian opposition is being fed a steady diet of arms and training.[ix]
This seems to be precisely what is unfolding in the early days of October 2012. The authors of the Brookings report are tied to some of the more prominent neo-conservative warhawks behind the Bush-Cheney war on Iraq. Their sponsor, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, includes current foreign policy advisers to Republican right-wing candidate Mitt Romney, the open favorite candidate of Israel's Netanyahu.
The Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy which issued the report, is the creation of a major donation from Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media billionaire who also owns the huge German Pro7 media giant. Haim Saban is open about his aim to promote specific Israeli interests with his philanthropy. The New York Times once called Saban, "a tireless cheerleader for Israel." Saban told the same newspaper in an interview in 2004, "I'm a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel." [x]
The scholars at Saban as well as its board have a clear neo-conservative and Likud party bias. They include, past or present, Shlomo Yanai, former head of military planning, Israel Defense Forces; Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel and founder of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a major Likud policy lobby in Washington. Visiting fellows have included Avi Dicter, former head of Israel's Shin Bet; Yosef Kupperwasser, former Head, Research Department, Israeli Defense Force's Directorate of Military Intelligence. Resident scholars also include Bruce Riedel, a 30 year CIA Middle East expert and Obama Afghan adviser; [xi] Kenneth Pollack, another former CIA Middle East expert who was indicted in an Israel espionage scandal when he was a national security official with the Bush Administration. [xii]
Why would Israel want to get rid of the "enemy she knows," Bashar al-Assad, for a regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood? Then Israel's security would seemingly be threatened by the emergence of hard-line Muslim Brotherhood regimes in Egypt to her south and Syria to her North, perhaps soon also in Jordan.
The geopolitical dimension
The significant question to be asked at this point is what could bind Israel, Turkey, Qatar in a form of unholy alliance on the one side, and Assad's Syria, Iran, Russia and China on the other side, in such deadly confrontation over the political future of Syria? One answer is energy geopolitics.
What has yet to be fully appreciated in geopolitical assessments of the Middle East is the dramatically rising importance of the control of natural gas to the future of not only Middle East gas producing countries, but also of the EU and Eurasia including Russia as producer and China as consumer.
Natural gas is rapidly becoming the "clean energy" of choice to replace coal and nuclear electric generation across the European Union, most especially since Germany's decision to phase out nuclear after the Fukushima disaster. Gas is regarded as far more "environmentally friendly" in terms of its so-called "carbon footprint." The only realistic way EU governments, from Germany to France to Italy to Spain, will be able to meet EU mandated CO2 reduction targets by 2020 is a major shift to burning gas instead of coal. Gas reduces CO2 emissions by 50-60% over coal.[xiii] Given that the economic cost of using gas instead of wind or other alternative energy forms is dramatically lower, gas is rapidly becoming the energy of demand for the EU, the biggest emerging gas market in the world.
Huge gas resource discoveries in Israel, in Qatar and in Syria combined with the emergence of the EU as the world's potentially largest natural gas consumer, combine to create the seeds of the present geopolitical clash over the Assad regime.
Syria-Iran-Iraq Gas pipeline
In July 2011, as the NATO and Gulf states' destabilization operations against Assad in Syria were in full swing, the governments of Syria, Iran and Iraq signed an historic gas pipeline energy agreement which went largely unnoticed amid CNN reports of the Syrian unrest. The pipeline, envisioned to cost $10 billion and take three years to complete, would run from the Iranian Port Assalouyeh near the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf, to Damascus in Syria via Iraq territory. Iran ultimately plans then to extend the pipeline from Damascus to Lebanon's Mediterranean port where it would be delivered to EU markets. Syria would buy Iranian gas along with a current Iraqi agreement to buy Iranian gas from Iran's part of South Pars field.
South Pars, whose gas reserves lie in a huge field that is divided between Qatar and Iran in the Gulf, is believed to be the world's largest single gas field. [xiv] De facto it would be a Shi'ite gas pipeline from Shi'ite Iran via Shi'ite-majority Iraq onto Shi'ite-friendly Alawite Al-Assad's Syria.
Adding to the geopolitical drama is the fact that the South Pars gas find lies smack in the middle of the territorial divide in the Persian Gulf between Shi'ite Iran and the Sunni Salafist Qatar. Qatar also just happens to be a command hub for the Pentagon's US Central Command, headquarters of United States Air Forces Central, No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group RAF, and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF. In brief Qatar, in addition to owning and hosting the anti-Al-Assad TV station Al-Jazeera, which beams anti-Syria propaganda across the Arab world, Qatar is tightly linked to the US and NATO military presence in the Gulf.
Qatar apparently has other plans with their share of the South Pars field than joining up with Iran, Syria and Iraq to pool efforts. Qatar has no interest in the success of the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline, which would be entirely independent of Qatar or Turkey transit routes to the opening EU markets. In fact it is doing everything possible to sabotage it, up to and including arming Syria's rag-tag "opposition" fighters, many of them Jihadists sent in from other countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Libya.  
Further adding to Qatar's determination to destroy the Syria-Iran-Iraq gas cooperation is the discovery in August 2011 by Syrian exploration companies of a huge new gas field in Qara near the border with Lebanon and near to the Russian-leased Naval port of Tarsus on the Syrian Mediterranean.[xv] Any export of Syrian or Iranian gas to the EU would go through the Russian-tied port of Tarsus. According to informed Algerian sources, the new Syrian gas discoveries, though the Damascus government is downplaying it, are believed to equal or exceed those of Qatar. 
As Asia Times' knowledgeable analyst Pepe Escobar pointed out in a recent piece, Qatar's scheme calls for export of its huge gas reserves via Jordan's Gulf of Aqaba, a country where a Muslim Brotherhood threat to the dictatorship of the King is also threatening. The Emir of Qatar has apparently cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in which he backs their international expansion in return for a pact of peace at home in Qatar. A Muslim Brotherhood regime in Jordan and also in Syria, backed by Qatar, would change the entire geopolitics of the world gas market suddenly and decisively in Qatar's favor and to the disadvantage of Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. [xvi] That would also be a staggering negative blow to China. 
As Escobar points out, "it's clear what Qatar is aiming at: to kill the US$10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline, a deal that was clinched even as the Syria uprising was already underway. Here we see Qatar in direct competition with both Iran (as a producer) and Syria (as a destination), and to a lesser extent, Iraq (as a transit country). It's useful to remember that Tehran and Baghdad are adamantly against regime change in Damascus." He adds, "if there's regime change in Syria - helped by the Qatari-proposed invasion - things get much easier in Pipelineistan terms. A more than probable Muslim Brotherhood (MB) post-Assad regime would more than welcome a Qatari pipeline. And that would make an extension to Turkey much easier." [xvii]
The Israeli Gas dilemma
Further complicating the entire picture is the recent discovery of huge offshore Israeli natural gas resources.
The Tamar natural gas field off the coast of northern Israel is expected to begin yielding gas for Israel's use in late 2012. The game-changer was a dramatic discovery in late 2010 of an enormous natural gas field offshore of Israel in what geologists call the Levant or Levantine Basin. In October 2010 Israel discovered a massive "super-giant" gas field offshore in what it declares is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). [xviii]
The find is some 84 miles west of the Haifa port and three miles deep. They named it Leviathan after the Biblical sea monster. Three Israeli energy companies in cooperation with the Houston Texas Noble Energy announced initial estimates that the field contained 16 trillion cubic feet of gas—making it the world's biggest deep-water gas find in a decade, adding more discredit to "peak oil" theories that the planet is about to see dramatic and permanent shortages of oil, gas and coal. To put the number in perspective, that one gas field, Leviathan, would hold enough reserves to supply Israel's gas needs for 100 years.[xix]
Energy self-sufficiency had eluded the state of Israel since its founding in 1948. Abundant oil and gas exploration had repeatedly been undertaken with meager result. Unlike its energy-rich Arab neighbors, Israel seemed out of luck. Then in 2009 Israel's Texas exploration partner, Noble Energy, discovered the Tamar field in the Levantine Basin some 50 miles west of Israel's port of Haifa with an estimated 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of highest quality natural gas. Tamar was the world's largest gas discovery in 2009.
Israel discovered huge gas in Levantine Basin with Noble Energy. Source: Noble Energy map
At the time, total Israeli gas reserves were estimated at only 1.5 tcf. Government estimates were that Israel's sole operating field, Yam Tethys, which supplies about 70 percent of the country's natural gas, would be depleted within three years.
With Tamar, prospects began to look considerably better. Then, just a year after Tamar, the same consortium led by Noble Energy struck the largest gas find in its decades-long history at Leviathan in the same Levantine geological basin. Present estimates are that the Leviathan field holds at least 17 tcf of gas. Israel went from a gas famine to feast in a matter of months.[xx]
Now Israel faces a strategic and very dangerous dilemma. Naturally Israel is none too excited to see al-Assad's Syria, linked to Israel's arch foe Iran and Iraq and Lebanon, out-compete an Israeli gas export to the EU markets. This could explain why Israel's Netanyahu government has been messing inside Syria in the anti-al-Assad forces. However, a Muslim Brotherhood rule in Syria led by the organization around Mohammad Shaqfah would confront Israel with far more hostile neighbors now that the Muslim Brotherhood coup by Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi has put a hostile regime on Israel's southern border.
It is no secret that there is enmity bordering on hate between Netanyahu and the Obama Administration. The Obama White House and US State Department openly back the Muslim Brotherhood regime changes in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton's meeting with Turkey's Davutoglu in August this year was reportedly aimed at pushing Turkey to escalate its military intervention into Syria, but without direct US support owing to US election politics of wanting to avoid involvement in a new Middle East debacle.[xxi]
State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin has been accused by several Republican Congress Representatives of ties to organizations controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Dalia Mogahed, Obama's appointee to the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also a member of the US advisory council of the Department of Homeland Security, is openly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and an open foe of Israel as well as calling for the toppling of Syria's al-Assad. [xxii] Obama's Washington definitely seems to be backing the Muslim Brotherhood horse in the race for control of the gas flows of the Middle East.
And the Russian role
Washington is walking a temporary tightrope hoping to weaken al-Assad fatally while not appearing directly involved. Russia for its part is playing a life and death game for the future of its most effective geopolitical lever—its role as the leading natural gas supplier to the EU. This year Russia's state-owned Gazprom began delivery of Russian gas to northern Germany via Nord Stream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from a port near St. Petersburg. Strategically vital now for the future role of Russia as an EU gas supplier, is its ability to play a strategic role in exploiting the new-found gas reserves of its former Cold war client state, Syria. Moscow has long been engaged in promoting its South Stream gas pipeline into Europe as an alternative to the Washington Nabucco pipeline which was designed to leave Moscow out in the cold. [xxiii]
Beschreibung: GIF - 57.4 kb
Already Gazprom is the largest natural gas supplier to the EU. Gazprom with Nord Stream and other lines plans to increase its gas supply to Europe this year by 12% to 155 billion cubic meters. It now controls 25% of the total European gas market and aims to reach 30% with completion of South Stream and other projects.
Rainer Seele, chairman of Germany's Wintershall, the Gazprom partner in Nord Stream, suggested the geopolitical thinking behind the decision to join South Stream: "In the global race against Asian countries for raw materials, South Stream, like Nord Stream, will ensure access to energy resources which are vital to our economy." But rather than Asia, the real focus of South Stream lies to the West. The ongoing battle between Russia's South Stream and the Washington-backed Nabucco is intensely geopolitical. The winner will hold a major advantage in the future political terrain of Europe.[xxiv]
Now  a major new option of Syria as a major source for Russian-managed gas flows to the EU has emerged. If al-Assad survives, Russia will be in the position as savior to play a decisive role in developing and exploiting the Syrian gas. Israel, where Russia also has major cards to play, could theoretically shift to back a Russian-Syrian-Iraqi-Iran gas consortium were Israel and Iran to reach some modus vivendi on the nuclear and other issues, not impossible were the political constellation in Israel to change after the coming elections. Turkey, which is presently in a deep internal battle between Davutoglu and President Gül on the one side and Erdogan on the other, is dependent on Russia's Gazprom for some 40% of gas to its industry. Were Davutoglu and his faction to lose, Turkey could play a far more constructive role in the region as transit country for Syrian and Iranian gas.
The battle for the future control of Syria is at the heart of this enormous geopolitical war and tug of war. Its resolution will have enormous consequences for either world peace or endless war and conflict and slaughter. NATO member Turkey is playing with fire as is Qatar's Emir, along with Israel's Netanyahu and NATO members France and USA. Natural gas is the flammable ingredient that is fueling this insane scramble for energy in the region.
  • F. William Engdahl is author of Myths, Lies and Oil Wars. He may be contacted through .

[i] Reuters, Turkish artillery strikes on Syria continue for second day: Several Syrian soldiers killed in overnight attack; Turkey launched artillery strikes after mortar bomb fired from Syria killed five Turkish civilians, October 4, 2012. Accessed in
[ii]  Hüsnü Mahalli, Davutoglu  Betting on the Fall of Assad, Al Akhbar English, August 7, 2012, accessed in
[iii] Steven G. Merley, Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011, accessed in See also for more ties between Erdogan's Turkish AKP and the Musllim Brotherhood, GlobalMB, Syrian Ambassador Names Associate Of Turkish Prime Minister As Muslim Brotherhood Leader, May 25, 2011, accessed in
[iv] The figure of $10 billion was relayed in a private discussion with the author by a Turkish businessman and political figure who asked to remain anonymous. Indian diplomats, including H.E. Gajendra Singh, former Ambassador to Ankara, have independently confirmed Saudi funding of the Turkish AKP. Presumably like most $10 billion cash grants, it came with heavy strings attached from Riyhad.
[v] F. William Engdahl, Salafism+CIA: The winning formula to destabilize Russia, the Middle East,, 13 September, 2012, accessed in
[vi] Philip Giraldi, NATO vs Syria, December 19, 2011, The American Conservative, accessed in
[vii] Linda Gradstein, Israel fears Syrian violence spilling over Golan Heights border, October 4, 2012, accessed in
[viii] Daniel Byman, Michael Doran, Kenneth Pollack, and Salman Shaikh, Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change, The Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., March 2012, accessed in
[ix] Ibid., p. 6.
[xi] M. J. Rosenberg, AIPAC Cutout: The Rise & Fall Of The Washington Institute For Near East Policy, Talking Points Memo (TPM), 11 April 2010, accessed in
[xii] Nathan Guttman, Bush officials subpoenaed in AIPAC trial, Jerusalem Post, March 13, 2006, accessed in
[xiii] Alexander Medvedev, Role of Gas in a Sustainable Energy Future, 2nd Ministerial Gas Forum, Doha, Qatar, 30 November, 2010.
[xiv] Hassan Hafidh and Benoit Faucon, Iraq, Iran, Syria Sign $10 Billion Gas-Pipeline Deal, The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2011, accessed in
[xv] Daily Star, Syria Announces Gas Discovery, August 17, 2011, accessed in  
[xvi] Pepe Escobar, Why Qatar Wants to Invade Syria, Asia Times, September 27, 2012, accessed in
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] F. William Engdahl, The New Mediterranean Oil and Gas Bonanza - Part 1: Israel's Levant Basin—a new geopolitical curse?,, 20 February, 2012, accessed in
[xix] Ibid.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] The Economist, Turkey's political in-fighting: Erdogan at bay: The Turkish prime minister faces new enemies both at home and abroad, Feb 25th 2012; see also Hillary Clinton, Remarks With Foreign Minister Davutoglu After Their Meeting, Conrad Hotel Istanbul, Turkey, August 11, 2012, accessed in
[xxii] CSP,  Center Report Reveals Radical Islamist Views and Agenda of Senior State Department Official Huma Abedin's Mother, Washington, Center for Security Policy, July 22, 2012, accessed in See also  Aaron Klein, Muslim Brotherhood endorses Obama faith adviser: Gives thumbs up to 'Sister Mogahed' for Twitter post on dead journalist, WorldNetDaily, April 29, 2012, accessed on
[xxiii] F. William Engdahl, Moscow's High Stakes Energy Geopolitics,, 15 November, 2011, accessed in
[xxiv] Ibid. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Washington’s Assertion of Prolific Energy Resources on the American Continent!

Washington's Assertion of Prolific Energy Resources on the American Continent!
Among others, US diplomats and corporate financed so called academics sell two lines to Indian suckers, especially diplomats. That Indian decision makers, to be on the high table with the US led West (unlike during the Cold War) should show responsible behavior and not be "free riders" on a system, that was put in place and run by the Western countries. India has been enabled to develop thanks to this system and therefore India should be grateful. Responsible behavior means that
we uphold the system, accept to play by it (US laid rules) and not try to question it.
 There is also a distorted perception being peddled that India became an actor on the global stage only after the economic liberalization and reform programme in the early nineteen nineties. It was argued that we were either mostly passive or else anti-West in the Cold War era or that our foreign policy of that period was damaging to our interests and counter-productive; our conduct was not "responsible". (Look at Pakistan and soon at Turkey). Some of India's so called strategic community and diplomats one sees at IIC, ICWA etc seem to have internalized this narrative. You see them sidling up to speakers from USA to be on the right side of history ( they refuse to see that US has declined and is declining further as a result of its neoliberal economic regime creating highest income inequality and bankruptcy )
Now that it is clear that US military presence and power is being rolled back from Afghanistan, Iraq etc I leave it to your judgment what to make of killing of US ambassador in Libya and the spark that enflamed Muslim passions, hatred and anger against Washington, with President Morsi speaking 36 hours after US embassy in Cairo was attacked. Look at the shape of US policies and the state of its allies in greater middle east i.e. in Turkey, Jordan etc and earlier ,loss of its influence in central Asia and Ukraine and now its puppet ruler in Georgia has been ousted in an election by a new leader close to Putin. There are reports of disquiet in Saudi Kingdom. What if the 'Arab Spring 'reaches there ! Is India prepared to handle the situation with 6 million Indians working in the Gulf.
US diplomats and others are now telling their admirers in India that Washington does not need West Asian oil .Oh Come on! US and Americas have enough energy resources from shale, tar sands , rocks etc .Never mind how US led West since WWII has colonized and humiliated the East and South and exploited its resources. Let that pass. Here is an article exposing the Western claim about their assertion about their newly discovered energy resources (Even otherwise many Latin American nations have escaped from the clutches of Washington).
By Michael T. Klare Posted by Michael Klare at 9:15am, October 4, 2012
Last winter, fossil-fuel enthusiasts began trumpeting the dawn of a new "golden age of oil" that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum.  Ed Morse, head commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical.  In the Wall Street Journal he crowed, "The United States has become the fastest-growing oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to remain so for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s."
Once this surge in U.S. energy production was linked to a predicted boom in energy from Canada's tar sands reserves, the results seemed obvious and uncontestable.  "North America," he announced, "is becoming the new Middle East."  Many other analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy scenario, which now provides the foundation for Mitt Romney's plan to achieve "energy independence" by 2020.
By employing impressive new technologies -- notably deepwater drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) -- energy companies were said to be on the verge of unlocking vast new stores of oil in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations across the United States.  "A 'Great Revival' in U.S. oil production is taking shape -- a major break from the near 40-year trend of falling output," James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January 2012.
Increased output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil.  "The outline of a new world oil map is emerging, and it is centered not on the Middle East but on the Western Hemisphere," Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Post.  "The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down through North Dakota and South Texas... to huge offshore oil deposits found near Brazil."
Extreme Oil
It turns out, however, that the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American energy cornucopia imagine.  To reach their ambitious targets, energy firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers -- and recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.
Consider this: while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new "golden age," few emphasized that it would rest almost entirely on the exploitation of "unconventional" petroleum resources -- shale oil, oil shale, Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen).  As for conventional oil (petroleum substances that emerge from the ground in liquid form and can be extracted using familiar, standardized technology), no one doubts that it will continue its historic decline in North America.
The "unconventional" oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the unreliable producers of the Middle East involves substances too hard or viscous to be extracted using standard technology or embedded in forbidding locations that require highly specialized equipment for extraction.  Think of it as "tough oil."
Shale oil, for instance, is oil trapped in shale rock.  It can only be liberated through the application of concentrated force in a process known as hydraulic fracturing that requires millions of gallons of chemically laced water per "frack," plus the subsequent disposal of vast quantities of toxic wastewater once the fracking has been completed. Oil shale, or kerogen, is a primitive form of petroleum that must be melted to be useful, a process that itself consumes vast amounts of energy. Tar sands (or "oil sands," as the industry prefers to call them) must be gouged from the earth using open-pit mining technology or pumped up after first being melted in place by underground steam jets, then treated with various chemicals.  Only then can the material be transported to refineries via, for example, the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline.  Similarly, deepwater and Arctic drilling requires the deployment of specialized multimillion-dollar rigs along with enormously costly backup safety systems under the most dangerous of conditions.
All these processes have at least one thing in common: each pushes the envelope of what is technically possible in extracting oil (or natural gas) from geologically and geographically forbidding environments.  They are all, that is, versions of "extreme energy."  To produce them, energy companies will have to drill in extreme temperatures or extreme weather, or use extreme pressures, or operate under extreme danger -- or some combination of all of these.  In each, accidents, mishaps, and setbacks are guaranteed to be more frequent and their consequences more serious than in conventional drilling operations.  The apocalyptic poster child for these processes already played out in 2010 with BP'sDeepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and this summer we saw intimations of how it will happen again as a range of major unconventional drilling initiatives -- all promising that "golden age" -- ran into serious trouble.
Perhaps the most notable example of this was Shell Oil's costly failure to commence test drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.  After investing $4.5 billion and years of preparation, Shell was poised to drill five test wells this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska's northern and northwestern coasts.  However, on September 17th, a series of accidents and mishaps forced the company to announce that it would suspend operations until next summer -- the only time when those waters are largely free of pack ice and so it is safer to drill.
Shell's problems began early and picked up pace as the summer wore on.  On September 10th, its Noble Discoverer drill ship was forced to abandon operations at the Burger Prospect, about 70 miles offshore in the Chukchi Sea, when floating sea ice threatened the safety of the ship.  A more serious setback occurred later in the month when a containment dome designed to cover any leak that developed at an undersea well malfunctioned during tests in Puget Sound in Washington State.  As Clifford Krauss noted in the New York Times, "Shell's inability to control its containment equipment in calm waters under predictable test conditions suggested that the company would not be able to effectively stop a sudden leak in treacherous Arctic waters, where powerful ice floes and gusty winds would complicate any spill response."
Shell's effort was also impeded by persistent opposition from environmentalists and native groups.  They have repeatedly brought suit to block its operations on the grounds that Arctic drilling will threaten the survival of marine life essential to native livelihoods and culture.  Only after promising to take immensely costly protective measures and winning thesupport of the Obama administration -- fearful of appearing to block "job creation" or "energy independence" during a presidential campaign -- did the company obtain the necessary permits to proceed.  But some lawsuits remain in play and, with this latest delay, Shell's opponents will have added time and ammunition.
Officials from Shell insist that the company will overcome all these hurdles and be ready to drill next summer.  But many observers view its experience as a deterrent to future drilling in the Arctic.  "As long as Shell has not been able to show that they can get the permits and start to drill, we're a bit skeptical about moving forward," said Tim Dodson of Norway's Statoil.  That company also owns licenses for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, but has now decided to postpone operations until 2015 at the earliest.
Extreme Water
Another unexpected impediment to the arrival of energy's next "golden age" in North America emerged even more unexpectedly from this summer's record-breaking drought, which still has 80% of U.S. agricultural land in its grip.  The energy angle on all this was, however, a surprise.
Any increase in U.S. hydrocarbon output will require greater extraction of oil and gas from shale rock, which can only be accomplished via hydro-fracking.  More fracking, in turn, means more water consumption.  With the planet warming thanks to climate change, such intensive droughts are expected tointensify in many regions, which means rising agricultural demand for less water, including potentially in prime fracking locations like the Bakken formation of North Dakota, the Eagle Ford area of West Texas, and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania.
The drought's impact on hydro-fracking became strikingly evident when, in June and July, wells and streams started drying up in many drought-stricken areas and drillers suddenly found themselves competing with hard-pressed food-producers for whatever water was available.  "The amount of water needed for drilling is a double whammy," Chris Faulkner, the president and chief executive officer of Breitling Oil & Gas, told Oil & Gas Journal in July.  "We're getting pushback from farmers, and my fear is that it's going to get worse."  In July, in fact, the situation became so dire in Pennsylvania that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended permits for water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, forcing some drillers to suspend operations.
If this year's "endless summer" of unrelenting drought were just a fluke, and we could expect abundant water in the future, the golden age scenario might still be viable.  But most climate scientists suggest that severe drought is likely to become the "new normal" in many parts of the United States, putting the fracking boom very much into question.  "Bakken and Eagle Ford are our big keys to energy independence," Faulkner noted.  "Without water, drilling shale gas and oil wells is not possible.  A continuing drought could cause our domestic production to decline and derail our road to energy independence in a hurry."
And then there are those Canadian tar sands.  Turning them into "oil" also requires vast amounts of water, and climate-change-related shortages of that vital commodity are also likely in Alberta, Canada, their heartland.  In addition, tar sands production releases far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil production, which has sparked its own fiercely determined opposition in Canada, the United States, and Europe.
In the U.S., opposition to tar sands has until now largely focused on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion, 2,000-mile conduit that would carry diluted tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, thousands of miles away.  Parts of the Keystone system are already in place.  If completed, the pipeline is designed to carry 1.1 million barrels a day of unrefined liquid across the United States.
Keystone XL opponents charge that the project will contribute to the acceleration of climate change.  It also exposes crucial underground water supplies in the Midwest to severe risk of contamination by the highly corrosive tar-sands fluid (and pipeline leaks are commonplace).  Citing the closeness of its proposed route to the critical Ogallala Aquifer, President Obama denied permission for its construction last January.  (Because it will cross an international boundary, the president gets to make the call.)  He is, however, expected to grant post-election approval to a new, less aquifer-threatening route; Mitt Romney has vowed to give it his approval on his first day in office.
Even if Keystone XL were in place, the golden age of Canada's tar sands won't be in sight -- not without yet more pipelines as the bitumen producers face mounting opposition to their extreme operations.  As a result of fierce resistance to Keystone XL, led in large part by TomDispatch contributor Bill McKibben, -- the public has become far more aware of the perils of tar sands production.  Resistance to it, for example, could stymie plans to deliver tar sands oil to Portland, Maine (for transshipment by ship to refineries elsewhere), via an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal through Vermont and New Hampshire to the Maine coast.  Environmentalists in New England are already gearing up to oppose the plan.
If the U.S. proves too tough a nut to crack, Alberta has a backup plan: construction of the Northern Gateway, a proposed pipeline through British Columbia for the export of tar sands oil to Asia.  However, it, too, is running into trouble.  Environmentalists and native communities in that province are implacably opposed and have threatened civil disobedience to prevent its construction (with major protests already set for October 22nd outside the Parliament Building in Victoria).
Sending tar sands oil across the Atlantic is likely to have its own set of problems.  The European Union is considering adopting rules that would label it a dirtier form of energy, subjecting it to various penalties when imported into the European Union.  All of this is, in turn, has forced Albertan authorities to consider tough new environmental regulations that would make it more difficult and costly to extract bitumen, potentially dampening the enthusiasm of investors and so diminishing the future output of tar sands.
Extreme Planet
In a sense, while the dreams of the boosters of these new forms of energy may thrill journalists and pundits, their reality could be expressed this way: extreme energy = extreme methods = extreme disasters = extreme opposition.
There are already many indications that the new "golden age" of North American oil is unlikely to materialize as publicized, including an unusuallyrapid decline in oil output at existing shale oil drilling operations in Montana.  (Although Montana is not a major producer, the decline there is significant because it is occurring in part of the Bakken field, widely considered a major source of new oil.)  As for the rest of the Western Hemisphere, there is little room for optimism there either when it comes to the "promise" of extreme energy. Typically, for instance, a Brazilian court has ordered Chevron to cease production at its multibillion-dollar Frade field in the Campos basin of Brazil's deep and dangerous Atlantic waters because of repeated oil leaks.Doubts have meanwhile arisen over the ability of Petrobras, Brazil's state-controlled oil company, to develop the immensely challenging Atlantic "pre-salt" fields on its own.
While output from unconventional oil operations in the U.S. and Canada is likely to show some growth in the years ahead, there is no "golden age" on the horizon, only various kinds of potentially disastrous scenarios.  Those like Mitt Romney who claim that the United States can achieve energy "independence" by 2020 or any other near-term date are only fooling themselves, and perhaps some elements of the American public.  They may indeed employ such claims to gain support for the rollback of what environmental protections exist against the exploitation of extreme energy, but the United States will remain dependent on Middle Eastern and African oil for the foreseeable future.
Of course, were such a publicized golden age to come about, we would be burning vast quantities of the dirtiest energy on the planet with truly disastrous consequences.  The truth is this: there is just one possible golden age for U.S. (or any other kind of) energy and it would be based on a major push to produce breakthroughs in climate-friendly renewables, especially wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and tidal power.
Otherwise the only "golden" sight around is likely to be the sun on an ever hotter, ever dirtier, ever more extreme planet.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of The Race for What's Left.  A movie based on one of his earlier books,Blood and Oil, can be ordered at  Klare's other books and articles are described at his website.  You can follow Klare's work on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Michael T. Klare