Planet Watch
iraq.pipeline

Yes, ‘peak oil’—but demand, not supply

After oil prices went negative for the first time ever last month, they are now starting to rise again as lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted. US crude is now back to nearly $30 a barrel. But this is less than half what the price was a year ago, and a third what it was a dozen years ago. Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, is at the forefront of the cartel’s effort to squeeze supply to consumer nations, as part of its recent deal to curb output. Baghdad just announced a 30% cut of exports to Asia. But it remains to be seen if such measures will jack up prices and ease the economic pain that has led to a remobilization of anti-regime protests, despite pandemic fears. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

Planet Watch
Oilsands

Negative oil prices slow tar sands production

Despite a new agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US and Canadian oil benchmarks have now fallen below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has already started slashing oil sands output. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.5 billion in aid to the industry, and Trump is now also pledging a bail-out. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Caribbean
Havana farm

Cuba improvises under oil sanctions

On Cuba’s farms, oxen are again tilling the soil as tractors are paralyzed by oil shortages. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has imposed fuel rationing, among other emergency energy-saving measures and price controls on food. As in the “special period” a generation ago, Cubans must line up for gasoline and public transport. The island has been running on just 30% of petroleum deliveries as the US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on more maritime firms and vessels shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. In February, the Cuban government resorted to purchasing a ship carrying fuel after its owner refused to put into port on the island for fear of incurring US sanctions. (Photo: CounterVortex)

Planet Watch
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krüg)

Africa
South Sudan divisions

Thousands flee clashes in South Sudan

Thousands are fleeing ongoing inter-communal clashes in South Sudan’s Jonglei State and the newly created Greater Pibor Administrative Area—the latest challenge to efforts to cement peace following last month’s formation of a unity government. The UN peacekeeping mission reports that some 5,000 civilians have been displaced amid fighting between Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic militias. Pibor, in the east of the country, is one of two new oil-rich “administrative areas” created by President Salva Kiir as part of the compromise deal with the rebel opposition that cleared the way for the power-sharing government. (Map: Wikipedia)

Syria
Syria oil map

Great powers jockey for control of Syrian oil

In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF is selling oil from the those fields to the Assad regime. This is certainly an absurd irony, as US forces are backing up the SDF in control of the fields. Further evidence that, rhetoric and even official policy notwithstanding, the US is actually tilting to Assad in the Syrian war. The sales would appear to be another bid by the Kurds to win a separate peace with the Assad regime now that they are caught between foreign powers. The bitter irony is that Assad, ultimately, is also hostile to Kurdish autonomy. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Africa
South Sudan

Will third peace accord hold in South Sudan?

South Sudan’s rival leaders have finally agreed to form a transitional government of national unity, officially putting an end to more than six years of war that has left millions displaced and an estimated 400,000 dead. The breakthrough came as President Salva Kiir met rebel leader Riek Machar in the capital Juba, and agreed to appoint Machar as his deputy in a new three-year coalition government—part of a power-sharing deal brokered two years ago and twice delayed. Critical to the breakthrough is Kiir’s offer to return South Sudan to 10 states—after unilaterally increasing them to 32. This is a major demand of the opposition, who charge that Kiir’s redrawing of boundaries is designed to gerrymander Dinka majorities in resource-rich areas, especially those with oil. Those same majorities could also ensure Kiir wins the national elections slated to take place in three years. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Syria
Syria oil map

Kurds betrayed in new Russo-Turkish alignment?

Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey.  (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Southeast Asia
Indonesia

China-Indonesia maritime stand-off

Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area, and summoned Beijing’s ambassador to complain. China reportedly sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China’s “nine-dash line,” covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Syria
Syria oil map

Trump lays claim to Syrian oil

Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the US can do “what we want” with the oil-fields it now controls in northeast Syria. This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: “I’ll take the oil”—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon. A military showdown over the oil looms, as all sides to the conflict await the new order that will emerge from the current scramble for northern Syria. A contest between the US and Russian-backed Assadist forces is a terrifying possibility. One restraining factor is that the US holds the fields jointly with Kurdish forces—and Washington, Moscow and Damascus alike are attempting to groom the Kurds as proxies. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Planet Watch
emissions

UN climate change conference opens in Madrid

The 2019 UN Climate Change Conference opened in Madrid—originally planned for Chile, but changed due to the political instability there.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged leaders to select the “path of hope.” He characterized this choice as: “A path of resolve, of sustainable solutions. A path where more fossil fuels remain where they should be–in the ground–and where we are on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. That is the only way to limit global temperature rise to the necessary 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.” (Photo: cwizner/Pixabay)

Iran

Net silence as Iran explodes into protest

Protests erupted in Iran after the government announced a 50% increase in the price of fuel, partly in response to the re-imposition of US sanctions. Spontaneous demonstrations first broke out in Sirjan, but quickly spread to several other cities, including Tehran, where petrol stations were set on fire. The regime quickly responded by imposing a near-total shut-down of the Internet and mobile data throughout the country. Security forces have already killed several protesters, and the the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of “decisive” action if the unrest does not cease. (Image: Hajar Morad via Twitter)