Arctic oil scramble in offing after GOP tax bill

As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."

Oil prices surge: vindication is tedious

Well, we hate to say "We told you so," but... We told you so. We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, that thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production, the price was now immune to Middle East instability, dramatic spikes and "oil shocks" forever banished. Well, futures for Brent crude just hit $63.37 per barrel, with the spot price for West Texas Intermediate at $57.34. (, Creeping toward the $100 per barrel we were so recently assured was a thing of the past. blames Trump's announcement that the US will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which has of course unleashed unrest in the Palestinian territories and instability fears across the Middle East. But the jump really began almost exactly a month ago, seemingly prompted by the leadership purge in Saudi Arabia. That brought the Brent crude price up to $62, its highest level since July 2015. (The Guardian, Nov. 6)

Bolivia hosts 'Gas OPEC' summit —amid dissension

The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.

San Francisco sues fossil fuel companies

San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.

Venezuela drops petro-dollar: how meaningful?

The government of Venezuela, under growing pressure from US sanctions, is telling oil traders that it will no longer receive or send payments in dollars, Dow Jones reported Sept. 13. Oil traders who export Venezuelan crude or import oil products into the country have begun converting their invoices to euros. The state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA), has instructed its private joint venture partners to convert existing cash holdings into euros. Plugging the switch, Venezuela-based state media outlet TeleSur writes: "The petrodollar is more important for US global domination than either arms exports or Hollywood culture, because it allows the US to be the biggest exporter of the dollar bills the rest of the world needs to be able to buy oil. Venezuela has decided to start de-dollarizing its economy."

Control of oil at issue in NAFTA re-negotiation

As "NAFTA 2.0" negotiations open, a provision that essentially locks in Canada's current levels of oil exports to the US is drawing opposition from unlikely allies across the Canadian political spectrum but winning staunch support in the "Oil Patch," as the country's petroleum industry is colloquially called.  The "proportionality clause" originally appeared in the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and became a major issue in that year's national election that returned Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to office. It was replicated six years later in the North American Free Trade Agreement—although Mexico won an exemption. The clause can be invoked if a government in Canada reduces US access to Canadian oil, natural gas, coal, electricity or refined petroleum products without a corresponding reduction in domestic access to those resources.

Trump finally meets a 'dictator' he doesn't like

Well, this is cute. The Trump White House condemned Venezuela as a "dictatorship" in the wake of the contested Constituent Assembly vote, and imposed sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro. The immediate pretext is the detention of opposition figures Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who were transferred from house arrest to military prison, accused of leading protests in defiance of a nationwide ban. Trump said in a statement that the United States "condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship," and holds Maduro "personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. López, Mr. Ledezma, and any others seized."

Venezuela: is the problem really 'socialism'?

There is an unseemly tone of gloating to conservative commentary on the crisis in Venezuela, with pundits calling out their opposite numbers on the left for their cheerleading for the regime and pointing to the current chaos as evidence that "socialism" doesn't work. Indeed, many left-wing commentators deserve to be called out for their uncritical attitude toward the late Hugo Chávez and his mediocre successor Nicolás Maduro. But a case can be made that, contrary to conservative and mainstream assumptions, the problem is precisely that the Bolivarian Revolution has been insufficiently revolutionary and socialist.

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