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One Commodity To Rule Them All: Oil

On the global stage, morality only stretches as far as not to disturb the operations of oil companies in different regions. A recently-released Wikileaks cable reveals Shell Oil's frustration at sanctions on Iran, and how it feels constrained as a

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On the global stage, morality only stretches as far as not to disturb the operations of oil companies in different regions. A recently-released Wikileaks cable reveals Shell Oil's frustration at sanctions on Iran, and how it feels constrained as a result.

Written in 2006 from The Hague embassy to Washington DC with copies to key embassies around the world, it conveys Shell's frustration at UN sanctions on Iran and how it constrains their business operations in that country, and exposes their influence at watering down those sanctions in order to continue their operations in the region.

MFA's Roosegaarde Bisschop responded with three main points on Iran. First, he said MFA supports a UNSC resolution with teeth, meaning reversible sanctions targeted against the assets and travel of individuals associated with Iran's nuclear program. Iran had crossed the line. The Dutch, he said, fully support the P5 discussions, as part of a dialog aimed at a diplomatic solution. Harsher measures -- such as omnibus sanctions or those complicating Shell operations -- are not on the table and would be very difficult to get through the UN, he said.

The cable goes on to discuss Shell's views on the US government's push for hard-line sanctions on Iran:

Crocker expressed concern about USG efforts to discourage investment in Iran's energy sector. In the short run, he said, the volume of oil produced in Iran will remain unchanged, whether or not Shell participates in Iran oil projects. This is because phase I oil extraction -- a period that normally lasts 10 years -- is not tricky, and the Iranians and Chinese have the requisite technology to proceed on their own. It is from the second phase onward, Crocker added, where the exclusion of foreign oil companies will have an impact. Since this is beyond 2020, it might make life difficult for ordinary Iranians at a time when the political environment hopefully may be more friendly toward the west, Crocker said. That said, he added that Shell views its relationship with the USG as important and that the company is very conscious of how its actions are perceived.

I'd just like to be able to say I don't give a rat's ass about whether Shell has a tough time because the US is less reliant on foreign oil. In fact, I'd like to not use oil at all, because the one thing that keeps getting driven home to me over and over and over again in these cables is how utterly dependent every aspect of diplomacy is on oil extraction. It's obscene.

From another cable on the same topic, this time in January, 2009:

The Dutch government agrees that doing business with Iran poses risks for Dutch companies, and it will continue to discourage new investments there. Shell has again pushed back its investment decision on the Persian LNG project, this time until late 2010. However, Shell's go-slow approach in Iran belies seething frustration at the perceived ineffectiveness of sanctions against Iran. The company sees Iran's nuclear activities continuing while Chinese and other firms seal long-term energy deals in Iran at the expense of Western energy security interests.

Moving from The Netherlands to Brazil, a cable from June, 2008 which concludes with this:

Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy, regulators, and US energy companies have suggested that it could instead be within this period for the USG to intervene. Indeed, Petrobras' interest in consolidating deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and vertical integration in the US market could open an important window of opportunity for the USG. Furthermore, ANP has expressed interest in learning more about US small and medium sized energy companies operating in US states to develop a similar capacity in Brazil. They have, in fact, asked for USG assistance to travel to the US to meet with and further learn about this important part of the energy equation. Clearly, Brazil's energy sector offers new partnerships, opportunities, and increased energy security for the US. As Brazil begins to increase exploration of its newfound "pre-salt" reserves that many believe could be larger than the finds in the North Sea, the US could potentially capitalize on these new technologies to develop our own offshore exploration efforts. Early engagement may be crucial to ensuring that US firms will have opportunities in this market.

On its face, that cable seems fairly giddy and innocuous. But US relations with Brazil in 2008 were not all sweetness and light. Brazil was (and is) looking for a place on the global stage, and the US has a differing view of their stability and importance. That is, until the big oil find.

Oil takes center stage with regard to Nigeria in 2009 when Shell oil executives brief the US ambassador on the state of Nigerian security and politics. Who knew oil companies were also intelligence officers?

Moving on to Russia, we have BP profiting heavily from investments in Gazprom and Rosneft, the former state-owned oil companies which were privatized...sort of. From a 2008 cable:

Peattie told the Ambassador that BP plans to be in Russia “for the next 50 years” and is thinking of the long-run in terms of its investments. He said TNK-BP is a large and important part of BP’s presence but might not be the main vehicle for BP going forward. In that regard, he noted that BP had invested $8 billion in TNK-BP but had already realized $9 billion in profits. Instead, he cited BP’s growing ties with Rosneft, in which it has a one percent stake, as the potential long-term foundation of BP’s involvement in Russia. Peattie said to that end, BP was increasing its direct presence in Russia.

These are only a few examples. There are many more. If no other message comes out of these cables, let this one resonate: The quest for oil drives everything from diplomacy to sanctions. It overrides human rights, common sense, and ideological differences.

Now take the energy Czars in this country: The Kochs, the Unocals, et al, and combine that with their strategy to unite theology and oil while vigorously denying climate change. In his book American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips writes that there are three threats that leave the US vulnerable:

...three principal U.S. global vulnerabilities have emerged: radical religion, costly and precarious dependence on oil, and a cult of borrowing money (ballooning public and private debt). The debacle in Iraq and the Middle East-centered "war on terror," far from representing a separate category, are firmly rooted in radical and fundamentalist religion and the roiling affect of Western (especially Anglo-American) pursuit of oil and military domination in the Middle East.

This is what makes the right wing so toxic to this country, and why it's so important to unite in resolve not to give them any more power than they've already taken. If we can unify around that message, we might be able to drive back the destruction they'll surely bring.

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