Minority Report on Ukraine, or What’s Venezuela Got to Do with It?

I freely admit to being the oddest of the quadruplets in the Emptywheel sensory deprivation pool, producing the quirky minority report from time to time.

Which may explain the following graphic with regard to current geopolitical tensions.

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

 As you can see, not every trending burp in the news about either Venezuela or Ukraine produced a corresponding bump in the fossil fuel market. Some trend-inducing news may have nothing at all to do with energy. It’s quite possible I may not have captured other key businesses as some of them don’t trade publicly, or are don’t trade in a manner readily captured by Google Finance.

But there are a few interesting relationships between news and price spikes, enough to make one wonder what other values may spike with increased volatility in places like Venezuela (which has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the western hemisphere), and Ukraine (which lies between the EU and the largest natural gas deposits in the world, and the world’s eighth largest oil reserves).

Of course there’s an additional link between these two disparate countries. Both of them have already seen similar upheavals in which the U.S. played a role — Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.

When someone made noise about an Afghan Muslim being a key locus of the latest unrest in Ukraine, I couldn’t help but think of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline for natural gas which has yet to be realized, primarily for a lack of adequate political will among nation-states with a vested interest in its success.

It also made me think of news reports from this past summer when Turkmenistan, sitting on the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, expressed a readiness to export gas to Europe. This would cut into Russia’s sales, but not for a few years, requiring continuation of existing relationships for the next three to five years. Note the pipelines, existing and planned on the following U.S. State Department map (date unclear, believed to be post-2006).*

7 replies
  1. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    It’s like an addiction, this insatiable demand for oil and gas by the US.

    I laugh every time I here a new report that the fracking, coal burning, earth fucking, profit driven oil industry is exposed with yet another polluting incident.

    It’s kind of a perverse laugh of disgust at the stupidity though, not a laugh, in any way, of mirth.

    When will these bastards be shut down, and their endless wars for more pollutants be ended?

    I can almost guarantee that one of the outcomes of getting $ out of politics would be the oil industry would be history in an instance. It’s not actually needed, it damages more than it contributes, and it drives wars, endless fucking wars.

    Enough already!

  2. Rayne says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): The U.S. does have a ridiculously high consumption rate, but I think we need to look at this systemically.

    For instance, the U.S. exports huge amounts of its agricultural products; these are grown using petroleum-based fertilizers and herbicides. Who ultimately is consuming the petroleum? Ditto for any other goods produced in greater percentages in the U.S., relying on fossil fuels, but ultimately exported.

    The military is the single largest consumer of energy in the U.S.; how much is consumed here, or overseas? How much is consumed on behalf of countries we are actively providing security with their informed consent?

    And how much of the current instability we see is because the U.S. has recognized in its quadrennial reports that our military must seek alternative fuels?

    It’s wars for fossil fuels, but its roots aren’t as obvious as they appear at first glance.
    EDIT — 8:30 AM EST —
    Here, to make my point about ag-exports and fossil fuel consumption:

    In 2002, the U.S. food system consumed 17 percent of the country’s total fossil fuel use (Eshel & Martin 2). The availability of seemingly unending fossil fuel resources has led to the highly unsustainable situation whereby “the U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy” (Pfeiffer 4). Much of the food system’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels stems from the capitalist structure under which it operates. United States government policies have also encouraged the expansion of large corporate farms and farm specialization by subsidizing over production and the export of goods to international markets. Although large specialized farm owners benefit from economies of scale, they must in turn increase their use of synthetic chemical inputs and petroleum fueled farm machinery, creating a serious dependence on fossil fuels.

    The use of synthetic fertilizers accounts for 20 percent of energy use on American farms (Brown 34), and annually one billion pounds of pesticides are applied to farms across the nation (Pimentel 463). The dramatic increase in urbanization over the past century, coupled with a move away from mixed farming systems in favor of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has deprived farms of natural sources of fertilizer and resulted in the massive expansion of commercial fertilizer use (Pimentel 464). The capitalist system encourages the food system’s unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels because as long as oil is cheap and plentiful, large profits can be made by ensuring the system remains unsustainable.

    [source: Shirin Fatemeh Wertime via The Oil Drum, c. 2010]
    If memory serves, approx. 40% of all grains grown in the U.S. are exported; how much of the U.S. fossil fuel consumption is tied up in both production and the transport of these grains? How can we ensure U.S. farmers can continue their productivity to keep global food prices stable, while reducing fossil fuel consumption? Who benefits if the system remains unchanged?

  3. bevin says:

    “How can we ensure U.S. farmers can continue their productivity to keep global food prices stable, while reducing fossil fuel consumption?”

    The alternatives to fossil fuel agriculture all involve labour. Contrary to conventional wisdom/apologias, current agricultural methods in America are not very efficient, except in the employment of labour. Global food prices would stabilise easily if more land were used for agriculture and less for commodity export production.

    The obscenity of Kenyans and Filipinos, for example, consuming imported US corn (subsidised by the taxpayer who cannot afford food stamp funding) while their own lands, now expropriated, the source of food for generations, are used to produce cut flowers for European Supermarkets or Palm Oil for shampoo manufacturers, requires only the small adjustment of popular democracy to be repaired.

    “Who benefits if the system remains unchanged?”
    Large Corporations addicted to the wasteful and suicidal obsession with long distance trade which characterises this empire.

  4. Rayne says:

    Passing thought: I wonder if anybody will ask about the timing of the “terrorist attack” in Southern China, by Xinjiang-based Uighur Muslims — Xinjiang is conveniently along a pipeline out of Kazakstan.

    I know I’ve seen some map in the last handful of years that showed pipeline running from Russia through Astana, Kazakstan, to Xinjiang, China. What I don’t remember is whether the pipeline was actual or proposed…hmm.

  5. Rayne says:

    @bevin: I’d caution this line of thought, pointing to Ricardo’s theory; nations should specialize in what they offer as unique inputs. Philippines offers a comparative advantage when it comes to some kinds of agriculture because of their climate.

    They also have enormous risks due to their location. Typhoon Haiyan could have wiped out their entire year’s domestic-use food crops if they were to adopt subsistence-only approach to agriculture.

    We’ve seen similar catastrophic losses devastating export ag, too, like Hurricane Mitch and its impact on Honduras. The country’s entire crop —
    representing (if memory serves) 60-80% of the world’s banana crop at that time — was wiped out. It was a crop Honduras was best suited to grow, but they grew it to exclusion of other domestic-use crops. Farmers and non-farmers alike lost their livelihoods, and had no local food sources.

    The lesson is that a balanced approach to agriculture is required, not an all-or-nothing proposition. Some export crops to encourage cash inflows/trade outflows offers diversity to the world’s market; some domestic crops, suited for the local climate, provide a backstop to crop failures elsewhere. Both export and domestic-use crops should use green cultivation methodologies.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    As long as we are connecting weird dots about Ukraine and Venezuela crises in an overall geoeconomic-political frame, consider the impact if the US successfully normalizes relationships with Iran and reduces its military force by 100,000.

    And consider that the Department of Defense is in the middle of its quadrennial strategic review, a review that might identify a potential huge peace dividend if the US no longer had scary enemies.

    The Fifth and Sixth Fleets, for example. With Iran no longer an enemy, why have a base in Bahrain, which is a liability already.

    If you though like the Nuland-Kagan crowd, you would lust to relocate the Fifth Fleet to Sevastapol to protect our NATO ally Turkey and our new ally Ukraine. That would provide the deep strategic position in Eurasia that the neo-cons sought by a presence in Afghanistan.

    The NATO countries that ought be most concerned about Russian actions are Poland, Hungary, and Turkey. Are they? Absent some concern there, best to consider this crisis primarily a US show.

    The US nothern network supply agreements to supply troops in Afghanistan have created US relationships and presence in most of the Central Asia countries through which the Gazprom-owned pipelines go. Although nominally scheduled for completion in 2017, there is no indication as yet that there is much of the TAPI pipeline constructed. And two competitors-Turkmenistan-Iran-Pakistan and Turkmenistan-China are more likely to be built.

    Stability in the Middle East means that two competing pipeline could be built through Syria–one from Iran and the other from Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, these are being approach as rival pipelines. And both would serve Europe through Turkey. Some have argued that Russia has a strategic interest in these pipelines not being built and is quite happy to allow the Syrian government to not approve them.

    These are considerations, not explanations, without some additional evidence of government positions and policies. But they are intriguing considerations.

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