Archive for August, 2008


More thoughts on Palin

August 31, 2008

Rick Brookhiser over at National Review’s The Corner blog is among a handful of Republicans who are not happy with McCain’s pick.  Brookhiser’s point #1 seems to indicate that the VP slot devolves solely to traditional foreign affairs, and if you are not versed in that, then you are an unserious pick.  Well, how does that fit Romney, whose choice would have been guided by economics?  Romney is not exactly a star in the foreign policy firmament.

There are other issues, and ENERGY is a major one.  Palin is, by far, the most experienced energy candidate of the 4 principles.  In addition to governing the nations top oil producing state, she also served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the regulatory agency charged with overseeing Alaska’s precious nonrenewable natural resources.  The combined practical and executive experience on energy issues dwarfs that of the other candidates, and it stands in stark contrast to Joe Biden, who has been in the Senate long enough to have voted against the original Alaska Oil Pipeline in the 1970s.  When experience and judgement come up in the debates, that fact is going to leave a mark on the Old Pro.

Let’s also not forget that she  is not necessarily a blank slate on foreign policy.  One of the most pressing geopolitical problems of the 21st century will be one that no administration has had to deal with before – the melting of the polar ice cap and the consequent opening of the Northwest Passage.  Palin’s administration has the most direct experience in dealing with what will be a defining issue of our relations with our most important ally (Canada, with whom we share the world’s longest unguarded border and who supplies to us our largest foreign supplies of energy, both oil and hydro electric) as well as our most intractable foe, the resurgent Russia.

From my perspective as a geographer, I thought Pawlenty was McCain’s best option, simply for reasons of raw electoral arithmetic, but I concede that Palin has  some very strong hole cards to play in this debate.  Those who are writing her off may well be walking into a trap.


A bit on Palin

August 29, 2008

I don’t know all that much about Governor Palin, John McCain’s selection as his VP.  However, I do know that she is strong on drilling, including the opening up of ANWR for exploration.  As the Biden selection led me to wonder whether that meant Obama would endorse “The Biden Plan” for Iraq, so does this selection lead me to wonder whether McCain will change his position on ANWR?

A couple of other tidbits I have come across this week that I’ll throw in here to close out the week.  First, which I found via the Instapundit earlier this week (and, Instapundit is a great source for finding energy technology stories), is a story about developments in the use of nanotechnology in the harvesting of solar energy.

Second, Megan McArdle at The Atlantic has an informative post on the prospects for the “Hydrogen Economy.” Note especially her warnings about the assumptions – on both the left and on the right – that simply investing enough money will create a substitute for petroleum.   In the near and well into the middle term, petroleum will enjoy a significant price and infrastruture advantage.  So, in the near and middle terms, maximize petroleum supplies will remain crucial, which brings us back to the selection of Sarah Palin as the GOP VP.  Of the four principles now engaged, I would say she is the best energy candidate so far.  Now, I’d like the two campaigns to give us a hint of who they would name as their Energy Secretary.  Personally, I think one of the best candidates in either party is Brian Schweitzer, and Obama could go a long way with me if he would use the Montana Governor to effect in this campaign.


The distressing selection of Joe Biden

August 28, 2008

Now that I am finally back to near full strength (even though I am still not eating solid food), it’s past time for a substantive post.  We don’t do partisan or electoral politics on this blog, but we do do energy geopolitics, and there have been some momentous events in the past week that could impact EnerGeoPolitics in the broadest sense, so let’s go.

When I heard through a Vicodin haze last weekend that Obama had named Joe Biden as his VP, I thought I must be halucinating.  Biden, the entrenched insider, seems to be the antithesis of everything the Obama campaign had been preaching about bringing Change to the old Washington ways.  Further, Obama had used his early opposition to the war in Iraq as the  raison d’être of his campaign, and had used it as a sledgehammer against opponents who were not as pure in their opposition.  Now, here he was, selecting as his #2 man someone who, in his (paraphrased) words “had gotten wrong the most important foreign policy question of our generation.”

Of course, Obama is on the cusp of actual leadership, where lobbing critiques from the peanut gallery is a luxury he can no longer afford.  He has to deal with the reality that we are in Iraq, which necessitates moving beyond harping about how we got there and figuring out how to go forward.   His own “immediate withdrawal plan” which he submitted as a Senator was all for show – another peanut gallery grenade that was ultimately unloaded.  His advisors have spoken throughout the campaign of leaving residual forces of 40,000 or 50,000 or 80,000 troops for an unspecified period of time.  Behind the sloganeering, in reality, there is no Obama Plan for leaving Iraq.

But, there is a Biden Plan (actually, there isn’t – it is actually Peter Galbraith’s plan, but in yet another case of the intellectual pilfering for which he is known, Biden has appropriated as his own).  Joe Biden has been a consistent voice calling for the partition of Iraq into three separate federal units based on ethno-religious identity – roughly, a Kurdish north, a Shiite east, and a Sunni west.  Outside of a paniced bug-out from the region, I think this is the worst idea of all that I have heard.

Iraq sits in the center of the Strategic Energy Ellipse.  It is the most under-explored country in that crucial region, meaning the actual size of its immense oil and gas holdings are probably vastly under-reported.  The most important stratetgic objective for the United States in the next half century is to keep the flow of energy resources from this region as unrestricted as possible.  That means preventing the domination of the region by any state or group of states.

The current strength of the US in the region lies in the network of alliances and relationships with other like-minded nations.  Saudi Arabia and the GCC states all fear domination by an Iranian hegemon.  The Central Asian states fear domination by Russia.  The Turks have history with both Russian and Persian imperialism.  Versus Persian and Russian designs, the United States sits as the balancing power.  However, at the moment we begin to show weakness or inability to fulfill our role, all these nations will have incentive to begin making accomodations with one of the other players.  This would have dire consequences for the stability of energy supply and, consequently, to the stability of the global economy.  This is the basic fact underlying US military presence in the region – we have to be there, in one way or another.

The Biden Plan has the potential to seriously damage, if not destroy, many of the alliances the US has in the region.  To begin with, the Turks would be strongly opposed to the independent Kurdistan that the Biden Plan lays the groundwork for.  Next, the Shiite East would likely become a de facto puppet state of Greater Iran, and would probably renege on any oil revenue sharing deals with the other two states.  That would the leave the Sunnis in the west abandoned to a pile of worthless sand.  Our closest and most important allies in the region – the Egyptians, the Saudis, the various states of the GCC – are also primarily Sunni, and would see this as a profound betrayal.  They would also see how much it strengthens Iran and weakens the US – especially if we were to be punished by the Turks by being denied use of our bases there.  The advantages of allying with the US would be fundamentally weakened.

The tripartite separation of Iraq is a monumentally unthoughtful idea.  It begins with the premise of “let’s get out,” and seeks to find a pseudo-intellectual justification or cover for that act.  Leaving aside for now the fact that it would be an exercise in US sanctioned ethnic cleansing, it fails to examine the strategic necessities of the situation first, and to find a way forward from them.  It is ironic that Peter Galbraith said the biggest failure of US strategy in Iraq was “wishful thinking,” and then he went on to put forward this fantasy.

Maybe this is all meaningless, maybe the selection of Joe Biden does not mean an Obama Administration would endorse the Biden Plan.  For certain, realities on the ground have changed much of the tenuous rationale for the plan in the first place, but as of two weeks ago, Biden’s office told Mother Jones that he still fully supported it.  But it is clear that Obama himself does not have a plan for leaving Iraq, and his plan, such as it is, is one of the very few things that Biden really seems to bring to the electoral table.



Coal Sequestration gets time at the DNC

August 27, 2008

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer gave a speech in Denver last night that few will remember and those who do will likely recall as unremarkable. but he did talk about coal gasification with carbon sequestration.  This is a big thing and could put the Dems ahead of the Republicans on the energy issue.  CTL and CTG are the most economically viable of the alternative energies most likely to be available in the near future.  When you add carbon sequestration to the process, it also has a very positive environmental aspect.  However, coal has a lot of enemies in Schweitzer’s party, so it remains to be seen how far this goes.  So long as Rep. Henry Waxman of California maintains his position on CTL, CTG and sequestration, coal remains on the outs with the Democratic Party.


Post courtesy of Frank Ganje

August 26, 2008

I am still recovering from my surgery and not allowed to be upright for too long a period.  Thankfully, Frank has provided numerous links over the past week to fill out a new post.  Your contributions to this site are invaluable and greatly appreciated, Frank.

First, an article on developments in solar power.  Frank also has the excellent idea of locating wind and solar generators near hydro-electric plants, using their electricity to pump water back into the reservoir, effectively storing that energy for later use.

A piece on hydrogen cars.

Rooftop solar panels in Arizona.

Environmentalists vs. Alberta Oil Sands

Natural gas production

Coal news

Russia and oil

India energy expansion

Finally, a discussion of oil and gas drill rigs.  I’ll post Frank’s email in its entirety, with links embedded.

Oil, gas rig count rises: The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States rose by eight this week to 1,998.
Houston-based Baker-Hughes Inc. reported that of the rigs running nationwide, 1,594 were exploring for natural gas and 395 for oil. Nine were listed as miscellaneous.
A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,816.
Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, California gained six rigs, Arkansas five, Oklahoma four, Louisiana three and New Mexico two. Colorado and Wyoming lost three rigs each, and Alaska and North Dakota lost one each. Texas remained unchanged.
Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

blogging break

August 20, 2008

I am going in for a minor surgery tomorrow morning, and thus taking a brief hiatus from daily posting.

I will be back up no later than next Tuesday, 8/26.


The Strategic Energy Ellipse (map)

August 19, 2008

In response to several e-mail requests, here is a map of the Strategic Energy Ellipse which I have commented on several times.  The image is taken from Geoffrey Kemp and Robert Harkavy (1997) Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East.  It is published here without permission, so I may have to take it down eventually.  FWIW, I believe Kemp is the person who first coined the term.