Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?

Antonia Juhasz, NYT

TODAY more than three-quarters of the world's oil is owned and controlled by governments. It wasn't always this way.

Until about 35 years ago, the world's oil was largely in the hands of seven corporations based in the United States and Europe. Those seven have since merged into four: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP. They are among the world's largest and most powerful financial empires. But ever since they lost their exclusive control of the oil to the governments, the companies have been trying to get it back.

Iraq's oil reserves - thought to be the second largest in the world - have always been high on the corporate wish list. In 1998, Kenneth Derr, then chief executive of Chevron, told a San Francisco audience, "Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas - reserves I'd love Chevron to have access to."

It's simple, Kenny - just get an oil patch guy, the dumber the better, installed as p-resident, get him to start a war, and just go take it. Oh, wait, you already tried that...well, it still might work.

A new oil law set to go before the Iraqi Parliament this month would, if passed, go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal. The Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraq's oil out of the exclusive hands of the Iraqi government and open it to international oil companies for a generation or more.

What's a few million in bribes compared to billions in profits anyway? Screw the ragheads, who says it's their oil just because they've been sitting on top of it forever? The dumb shit fuzzy-wuzzies wouldn't know what it was for if it wasn't for us enlightened Westerners. Hell, you can't run camels on it. We need it more than they do.

The law would transform Iraq's oil industry from a nationalized model closed to American oil companies except for limited (although highly lucrative) marketing contracts, into a commercial industry, all-but-privatized, that is fully open to all international oil companies.

The Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of just 17 of Iraq's 80 known oil fields, leaving two-thirds of known - and all of its as yet undiscovered - fields open to foreign control.

The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire Iraqi workers or share new technologies. They could even ride out Iraq's current "instability" by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country. The vast majority of Iraq's oil would then be left underground for at least two years rather than being used for the country's economic development.

Iraqis may very well choose to use the expertise and experience of international oil companies. They are most likely to do so in a manner that best serves their own needs if they are freed from the tremendous external pressure being exercised by the Bush administration, the oil corporations - and the presence of 140,000 members of the American military.

Why do you think we're building permanent bases? So the troops can stay there forever - or at least until they've ensured the O.C.s have pumped all the oil riches into their own pockets. Troops are just peasants, their blood is a cheap price to pay for corporate greed and the American way.

Antonia Juhasz, an analyst with Oil Change International, a watchdog group, is the author of "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time."

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