US Dependent on Saudi Arabia
The Bush administration and its Neocons have shot themselves in the foot big time if they thought they could use Iraq to reduce US dependence on Saudi Arabia. If you want to understand the problem, look at it this way. The world produces about 80 million barrels of petroleum every day. But only a fraction of that is exported, since producing countries use a lot of it at home.
Rather than being marginalized, Saudi Arabia has entered a new economic golden age. This was not what the Neocons were going for.
Of course, a lot of the problem is at home. The United States is an oil hog. Sorry to be blunt. But these were the top oil consuming countries in 2004, below. The United States gobbles up a fourth of all the petroleum produced every year, even though it only has about 5 percent of the world’s population.
2004 Top Petroleum Consumers:
1. United States 20.5
2. China 6.5
3. Japan 5.4
4. Germany 2.6
5. Russia 2.6
6. India 2.3
7. Canada 2.3
8. Brazil 2.2
9. South Korea 2.1
10. France 2.0
Some of the consumers have their own sources of petroleum, so the top importers is a slightly different list:
1. United States 11.8
2. Japan 5.3
3. China 2.9
4. Germany 2.5
5. South Korea 2.1
6. France 2.0
7. Italy 1.7
8. Spain 1.6
9. India 1.5
10. Taiwan 1.0
So, since we like to drive rather than take the train, and since we don’t really care about things like gas mileage or efficient use of energy, where are we going to get all the petroleum, since we produce less than half of what we use?
Meet the biggest oil exporters. You can think about them as your friends or your suppliers (in another context). In short, they are people you have put yourself in the position of desperately needing. The US doesn’t necessarily get petroleum directly from these countries. But since there is just one, world-wide, petroleum market, that doesn’t matter. We still depend indirectly on what they produce.
2004 top petroleum exporters (millions of barrels a day):
1. Saudi Arabia 8.73
2. Russia 6.67
3. Norway 2.91
4. Iran 2.55
5. Venezuela 2.36
6. United Arab Emirates 2.33
7. Kuwait 2.20
8. Nigeria 2.19
9. Mexico 1.80
10. Algeria 1.68
11. Iraq 1.48
12. Libya 1.34
13. Kazakhstan 1.06
14. Qatar 1.02
Saudi Arabia is actually producing 9 million barrels a day, of the 80 million total in the world, or 11 percent. It has a small population and doesn’t use much itself, so it can export almost all of it. (Russia produces about as much as Saudi Arabia, but uses much more).
Since the Bush administration mismanaged Iraq into chaos, it is producing far below its capacity. Cheney thought it would be doing 3 million barrels a day by now, but it is only managing half that, because of sabotage. If it was calm and invested billions in overhauls, it could maybe produce 5 million barrels a day five years out. Maybe 20 years out it could match what Saudi Arabia and Russia do today. But since its population is growing quickly and it will want to industrialize, it will probably use a lot of its petroleum in-country.
That is, there is no prospect in my lifetime of Saudi Arabia being less than indispensable to the United States in the global energy market.
If you don’t like the dependency, here are your present options:
Put in wind generators like crazy. They’re just about competitive at the current $60 a barrel price, and would help national security. They also make a lot of noise (or at least give off vibrations) and are annoying, and if you put them in the wrong place they’ll kill a lot of birds.
Put in nuclear power plants. They don’t produce greenhouse gases and are economically viable (especially if you factor in the cost of global warming otherwise, and of national security). They also sometimes melt down and they produce a byproduct that can be used to make very big bombs, and their waste is toxic and lasts thousands of years.
Go to solar panels , as Germany and Japan are doing, and now California. On the surface, solar is more expensive than fossil fuels (at the moment, ten times more expensive). Few are going to volunteer to pay a $1000 for something they can get for $100. But if you factor in the costs of global warming, who knows? Also the production of photovoltaic cells involves the use of some pretty toxic materials, which will become a pollution issue eventually.
Conserve. You could probably cut US consumption to 13 million barrels a day if you made the right laws, about gas efficiency, insulation of buildings, etc. There would be a cost, but in the medium run you’d save your money and be less dependent.
That’s about it as far as I can see. Hydrogen is a dream twenty years off at least. [Update: See below about a possibility Israeli scientists have come up with that may shorten the wait.] Oil is still about the cheapest way to power modern life, and in economics cheapness trumps. For all the noise about alternative energy, only 6.4 percent of US energy was provided by them last year; it may rise to 6.7 this year. The energy bill passed by Congress does almost nothing to help, and probably hurts.
Despite Americans’ talk about not liking to be dependent on the Saudis, their actual policies (and certainly those of the Bush administration) are calculated to increase the dependency, not lessen it.
Remember that the next time you complain about those spreading Wahhabi-influenced madrasahs. You might as well complain about cows while eating ice cream.
Some cites for the above:
Losing the fight against global warming:
South Korea aims for nuclear energy to provide 60 percent of its needs. “The system also uses new nuclear fuels unconvertible to weapons, the so-called proliferation resistant fuels that quench doubts on its risk of being used as nuclear bomb materials.” On the other hand, no province wants to store the radioactive wastes being produced.
India going in same direction as South Korea.
Germany going in opposite direction. A result of the Greens being in the government, and supporting solar instead.
“The operator of a Florida nuclear plant appears to have shipped radioactive waste to ordinary landfills, municipal sewage treatment plants and some unknown locations in the 1970’s and early 80’s, according to internal documents and government records obtained in lawsuits.”
Environmental impact, bats & birds.
Taller turbines kill fewer of certain kinds of birds.
The Israelis may save the world if this technique for producing hydrogen pans out and proves practical. I’m told the energy released in the productiong of hydrogen is the key thing.
[Some informed readers have written to say that since petroleum is mainly used for transport, these forms of energy-generation are irrelevant to the problem. They go on to say that only if electric cars or electric hybrids were adopted would these forms of energy be relevant to the petroleum problem. And that the very best way of dealing with it would be better efficiency in petroleum use.
I’d just say that a big US government push for solar, similar to what Germany is doing, plus a move to electric and electric/hybrid cars, would possibly bring solar’s cost down substantially (throwing billions of dollars at an industry often produces new and cheaper technology in it). That and move to subsidize trains rather than trucks (the truck subsidy is huge but is hidden in various ways), combined with greater efficiency in use of petroleum would at least begin to address the problem. The current US policy is just to gobble up more and more petroleum.]