Oil Spills Are Commonplace, Decried, and Tolerated

Far from isolated mega-catastrophes — such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound — oil spills occur routinely around the world, causing environmental and economic damage, provoking investigations by regional governments, and often leaving the victims unsatisfied. Entering the words “oil spill” in the Google News search engine returned more than 2,500 distinct articles published in the last 30 days on the topic. At the top of the news right now is the 100-foot fountain of petroleum that smothered the Canadian town of Burnaby this week, after a pipeline was pierced by a road-excavation crew. Fifty homes were evacuated and the contamination spread to the nearby Burrard Inlet, a harbor and wetlands ecosystem home to a variety of marine wildlife, including four species of salmon. Experts told the Canadian Press that the cleanup will cost millions, and that the toxic effects of petroleum in soil, sand and water could last for decades.

Russia’s Thirst for Oil

Russia has been single-minded in ensuring its hegemony over oil rights and delivery throughout Eastern Europe, and now seeks to edge out its American competitors in providing oil to Western Europe as well, say analysts. Vladimir Putin shocked observers by announcing a plan to annex a 460,000 square mile chunk of oil-rich Arctic last week. Russian scientists claim there is evidence showing that its northern Arctic region is connected to the North Pole by an underwater shelf. Critics counter that Canada could make the same claim — and besides which, nobody owns the North Pole. Putin also met with the leaders of eight Balkan countries to persuade them to back his new Italy-backed venture to build a gas pipeline under the Black sea from Russia to Bulgaria, saying it would benefit all of Europe.

FOCUS: Peak Oil

Martin Leatherman, Newsdesk.org
Are the days of cheap oil over? With prices soaring above $50 a barrel, the world is beginning to take the peak oil theory seriously. The Hubbert Peak Theory, developed in 1956 by geophysicist M. King Hubbert, is casually called the peak oil theory. It says oil and fossil-fuel production will soon reach a peak and then rapidly decline, driving prices up. In 1956 Hubbert predicted that production would peak in the United States in the late 1970s, which it did.

U.S. Courts Tackle Foreign Abuses: Energy corporations question “law of nations”

By Jennifer Huang | World Power I: Business & Law

A 215-year-old law originally written to address piracy and crimes abroad against American ambassadors is at the heart of litigation targeting some of the world’s largest energy corporations. Plaintiffs allege that ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Unocal and Royal Dutch/Shell are responsible for atrocities committed by foreign troops guarding their refineries and facilities overseas. The corporations say that the lawsuits are without merit, and that such human rights problems are the domain of U.S. foreign policy, not domestic courts. But a recent Supreme Court ruling may have left the door open for the suits to proceed. Anticipated ruling

The cases were filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, a law giving federal courts jurisdiction over international civil suits brought for violations of “the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

A Cold War Legacy of Persian Gulf Conflict: “Oil as the Future”

By Jennifer Huang | World Power III: Geopolitics

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Critics cite a January 16 article in the Wall Street Journal, describing a meeting between State Department officials and oil company executives. “The Bush administration is eager to secure Iraq’s oil fields and rehabilitate them, industry officials say,” the article reads. “They say Mr. Cheney’s staff hosted an informational meeting with industry executives in October, with Exxon Mobil Corp., ChevronTexaco Corp., ConocoPhillips and Halliburton among the companies represented. Both the Bush administration and the companies say such a meeting never took place.” Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader believes the meetings happened, and said that “41 members of the administration have ties to the industry.”

A Cold War Legacy of Persian Gulf Conflict: This Means War

By Jennifer Huang | World Power III: Geopolitics

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Cold War Legacies

In 1983, under President Ronald Reagan, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force became the Central Command, the instrument of American military policy in the region, and capable of drawing up troops from all branches of the armed services. “Each of the four services provides personnel on an as-needed basis, depending on the requirements of the mission,” explained Central Command spokesman Commander Dan Gage in an email correspondence. “In other words, there is no set number of personnel who are assigned to Central Command.” The Central Command was never used during the ’80s to directly confront Soviet ambition in Afghanistan, that crucial access route to Persian Gulf and Central Asian oil and natural gas reserves. Such matters were left to the Islamist mujahedeen, who, according to the CIA World Factbook, were trained and armed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others.

A Cold War Legacy of Persian Gulf Conflict: Central Command assures “unimpeded flow of oil”

By Jennifer Huang | World Power III: Geopolitics

Ground troops in the desert and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, Kurdish alliances and leafleting campaigns, oil field protection and one slippery despot: War in Iraq is a strategic and logistical behemoth. Legions of American soldiers have shipped out to the Persian Gulf region from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. An estimated 250,000 troops are in place — add another 40,000 from Britain and Australia and the number approaches 300,000. The modern military needs a small battalion just to orchestrate its own bureaucracy. That battalion is the Central Command, headed by General Tommy Franks.

Natural Gas Burns, and Communities Cry Foul

By Jennifer Huang | World Power II: Environment

When 19th century entrepreneurs began drilling and refining oil, natural gas was an unwelcome byproduct. The fledgling industry lacked the pipeline technology now used to capture and transport the volatile fuel released when oil is extracted from the ground. Instead, gas was simply burned off — a process known as flaring. Today the natural gas industry is worldwide, netting billions of dollars each year. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that demand for natural gas will double by 2020.

Natural Gas Burns: A Global Concern

By Jennifer Huang | World Power II: Environment

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While the debate rages in Nigeria and Alberta, flares continue to burn around the world. According to Dr. Chris Elvidge, a scientist at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration who studies satellite images of flares, other hot spots include northern Siberia, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. The United States, like Canada, is home to plenty of flaring. According to Julia May of Communities for a Better Environment, California refineries share many of the same issues as Alberta and the Niger Delta: a lack of comprehensive studies on the community impacts of emissions, and little or no monitoring of what kind of gases are in the flares. According to Paul Faeth, economist and managing director at the World Resources Institute, impacts on the environment and society are costs that the oil companies currently don’t pay — a phenomenon he calls “market failure.”