It may be that we invaded Iraq, not to increase production and access to oil, but to slow and control its production for the benefit of OPEC, and perhaps, our own benefit as well.
Here we present a theory, and it is only a theory, abet one that seems to match well and predict the actual events which unfold in the world around us. We do not discuss what is right or wrong; moral or a-moral. We simply present some interesting facts, our theory which explains these facts, and end with a comment on the relative desirability of some of the possible outcomes.
Who opposed the war, and why?
France, Germany, and Russia, all benefited from keeping Sadam Hussein in
power. They were the largest trading partners (listed in order of the
amount of trading) under the Iraqi oil-for-food programs. They were getting
light sweet crude at below OPEC prices and were the countries that were providing
the food, which essentially propped up their domestic agricultural industries.
The following, well referenced web article from the Heritage foundation lists
all the major contracts for these countries. It is notable that one
contract between Russia and Iraq was for $40 Billion to develop the oil fields
in Iraq. Note that this article was written in 2003 and references
the CIA factbook 2002, Washington times, and Asia News Wire among its many
Theres a lot of talk about how France, Germany, and Russia were making moral arguments against the invasion of Iraq. It is interesting that their moral arguments happen to align with their economic best interest.
and Germany get their oil elsewhere? Well, not really. Middle East
oil is light, sweet crude. Venezuelan and Mexican
oil is sour meaning that it contains higher levels of sulfur.
Sweet oil contains a small amount of sulfur and is the cheapest
to refine. Did you notice that the price of diesel is higher than gasoline
now? Thats because a few years ago, government regulations required
lower low sulfur diesel, which is more expensive to process (or requires
more expensive light sweet crude). >50% of automobiles in Germany
and France are now running on diesel AND the government has tighter emission
standards. Rather than putting pollution control on cars (opposed by
the automobile industry in Europe), they have put the burden on the petroleum
industry. Also, they have environmental laws that restrict the refinement
of sour crude in France and Germany. The bottom line? If less
light-sweet crude is on the market (such as that available from Iraq), then
Germany and France must import refined products, which is more expensive
and puts their refineries out of work.
The US likes light
sweet crude also. The following article shows how US refineries have
profited from their ability to process sour crude.
It is well documented
that the countries that comprise the UAE and control OPEC are converting
their economy away from oil to one of investments. The Middle East is running
out of oil. Some members of the UAE are already out of oil. They have invested
their oil profits in a wide variety of businesses and are making MOST of
their money off of those businesses. With the limited supply of oil left,
it is in their best interest to get the most profit from what they have left.
Here are just two references that talk about this conversion to an
investment-based economy in the UAE. You can easily find many more.
Iraq, selling their oil at below market prices, spoils that.
As a side note, one could start looking at sovereign wealth funds (the investment portfolios of place like the UAE) and see the effect they have had on the world economy, but that is another story.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7144774.stm The BBC recently reported that "Iraqi oil production is above the levels seen before the US-led invasion of the country in 2003" Which means that our invasion somewhat REDUCED oil production for the last 5 years. And the production that has just been attained is not the full production possible from the country; the Gulf war had decimated Iraqi oil production 10 years before "operation Iraqi freedom". The Iraqi oil fields had effectively been offline since the 1990's; as they showed signs of sputtering back to life, we invaded.
Notice how each time Iraqi Oil production exceeded 3 Million barrels per day, it was interrupted by a war and that production has been limited since our invasion in 2003. More importantly, ALL the oil being produced is now sold through approved OPEC channels. There is no more food for oil or other, non-sanctioned, sales.
This graph clearly showed how motivated OPEC was to take Iraqi oil OFF the market. Look at 2003 when we invaded. See the price increase that starts right at that point?
It doesn't cost OPEC or any of the big oil companies that have contracts in OPEC oil fields any more to pump that oil out of the ground than it did before, but now they make "record profits" when they sell it. OPEC isnt increasing production by more than a trickle because they want that price nice and high while they reap the profits from the last of their sweet, high grade, easy to get, oil. When that dries up, they will own enough of the world to live off the interest.
For any price control to be effective, in a free market, there must be a means of controlling the supply. Back in the pre-1970 days when the USA was the worlds major oil producer, we artificially controlled that supply via the actions of an agency called the Texas Railroad Commission. Reading about this part of our history, in our free market country is very instructive.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Railroad_Commission The East Texas oil fields discovery sparked a boom in production that sent prices plummeting. After a lengthy battle, the [Texas] Railroad Commission won the right to limit the production of oil to keep the price of oil from falling too low. They actually controlled and enforced the shutdown of oil wells owned by the big oil companies of the day.
http://www.wtrg.com/prices.htm "OPEC has seldom been effective at controlling prices. While often referred to as a cartel, OPEC does not satisfy the definition. One of the primary requirements is a mechanism to enforce member quotas. The old joke went something like this. What is the difference between OPEC and the Texas Railroad Commission? OPEC doesn't have any Texas Rangers! The only enforcement mechanism that has ever existed in OPEC was Saudi spare capacity."
Saudi Arabia, as a country populated almost entirely by Muslim peoples, can not hope to bring any serious sanctions against the other OPEC member nations; each of whom are populated by Muslims. The Saudi people would not stand for it.
Our theory is that a secret alliance between Saudi Arabia and the current administration changed all that. By using the 9/11 attack (lead by Saudi Arabians NOT by Iraqi's) to justify, to the American people, the invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq, our government did what the Saudi Royal Family could not: Enforce OPEC price "fixing". And we, the American people, under the leadership of G.W. Bush or his advisors, made it happen for them. We shut down the Ukrainian oil pipeline through Afghanistan and the "food for oil" backdoor used by Iraq to effectively sell oil at sub-OPEC prices. The perception that we might continue to strike at those who do not tow the OPEC line (Iran, Brazil, etc ) probably has a chilling effect.
Not into conspiracy theory? OK, consider these observations:
Did the US use 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq? Yes.
Did Saudi Arabia benefit economically from the invasion? Yes.
The dollar falls, our economy suffers, our young men and women die and are maimed, and the Saudis get rich.
Now, the interesting point is this: The higher gasoline prices are causing our economy to make real movement in new and more sustainable directions. Suddenly, high MPG cars, solar panels, telecommuting, stay-cations (rather than vacations), gardening, community supported agriculture, and mass transit are all on the increase. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
Also, if peak oil and global warming are, in fact, real threats, the increase in oil prices can actually be considered a "good thing" in the long run:
- Learning to get the same work done with less energy intensive methods is the best possible way to offset the introduction of carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Human life may depend on the development of those methods.
- The current price increase is minimal compared to the increases that would be seen if sweet, cheap crude oil simply ran out. If the Saudi Arabian oil fields suddenly stopped production, the US economy would face a shock that could easily create a depression which would make the great one look tiny. This practice increase gives our economy time to adjust.
It might even be that President Bush, or at least his advisors, have done the best possible thing for our country and our species, in the long term.
1. France, Germany, and Russia getting light sweet . . . France and Germany were getting a heavier, sourer grade than Italy, which gets most of its oil from Libya, the lightest, sweetest in OPEC. It is all ENI can handle and there's a pipeline under the Med for just this reason. Russia a net oil exporter . . . and they did have contracts to develop Iraqi fields. Lots of companies do.+
2. OPEC is not a price setter. They are a quota-based system tied to declared reserves, which are unverified and believed to be complete BS.
3. It is true Europe uses a lot more diesel than the US. That is by design. When your distill and crack a barrel of oil you are fairly limited as to how much gasoline (approx 45%) and diesel (approx 25%) you can get out of each one. Since we distill and crack more diesel than we can use during the processing of crude for gasoline, we ship our excess to Europe. Likewise, they ship their excess gasoline to us. That only makes sense. The majors developed their refineries over the years to take advantage of this natural disparity.
4. Of course the mid-east is running out of oil and attempting to diversify their economies. They're pumping sea water into the Ghawar like there's no tomorrow. There was only ever about 2.8 trillion barrels of proven reserves and we've already burned half of it - the easy to get, high-quality half. And half of that half was burned in the last 50 years. Do you really think we'd look at deepwater, tar, or fracking if we didn't have to?
5. "It doesn't cost OPEC or any of the big oil companies that have contracts in OPEC oil fields any more to pump that oil out of the ground than it did before." That's wrong. The first barrel is the cheapest and the marginal cost increases with every subsequent barrel. Often a freshly-tapped conventional well is under pressure, with copious quantities of natural gas and associated liquids present. As a well depletes more energy is required to move the oil from further depths, and eventually CO2 or seawater has to be added to maintain enough pressure to flow. These measures increase a lot after a well has passed the half-way point.
6. "Record profits . . ." In Exxon's best year they made a 40 billion on 400 billion in sales. That's a 10% margin. Any lower and why even bother? My conclusion is this article is a well researched, cherry-picked, disjoint assembly of everyday facts presented as some sinister plan to extort consumers.
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