Energy Security and the Regulation Imperative in a New Economic Era
Did the economic crisis stabilize oil prices? What is the future of energy security? Has China bypassed the United States in the green energy revolution? How will the global community approach the “fourth corridor” pipeline in relation to Iranian power and Russian resurgence?
Dr. Daniel Fine, research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Mining and Minerals Resources Institute, addressed a diverse set of energy-related questions at The Fletcher School on September 15. The presentation was part of the International Security Studies Program Global Speaker Series.
Dr. Fine indicated that Saudi Arabia views the current price of oil, roughly $70-75 per barrel, as reflecting a price that is both fair and natural. The 2007-2008 price spike, which increased the per barrel price 220% over its 2005 level, was accompanied by a mere 2.5% increase in consumption. According to Dr. Fine, this undermines the oft-cited argument that consumption spikes drive price increases.
The real story of runaway oil prices, Dr. Fine said, lies in the enormous amount of available credit in the 2007-2008, which allowed speculators to buy and hold massive reserves, disturbing traditional forces of supply and demand. Combined with a global finance system that neglected deposits and encouraged rampant buying and a lack of regulation, this perfect storm brought the financial world to its knees in September 2008.
As the global economy shows signs of recovery, Dr. Fine urged the audience to ignore speculators. So-called “geopolitical analysts” on major news shows, he said, are often self-interested frauds with no actual training in geopolitics, serving only to promote a product (oil, gas, or energy) and make faulty predictions.
In the framework of energy security, Dr. Fine cited President Obama’s speeches in Cairo and on Wall Street, as evidence of the administration’s movement away from hard power “oil politics” and toward Joseph Nye’s conception of soft power. Dr. Fine cited President Obama’s Cairo speech as the backbone of a new regional policy in which the United States will move away from energy independence and toward energy interdependence, working alongside the global community and with regulators to ensure transparency.
The new geopolitics, Dr. Fine noted, focus on the location of and environment that surrounds oil supplies. He indicated that this symbolizes a shift from “great salesmanship” to true political geography with an associated acknowledgement of the reality of sector specific risk. In this context, Dr. Fine discussed the “fourth corridor” pipeline route, popularly known as Nabucco, which will stretch across the Caspian Sea to Austria. Turkey’s attempts to claim 15% of the overall revenue would, if successful, render the proposed pipeline uneconomic, while the tumult in Georgia poses enormous political risk to the project. Russia, which holds a virtual monopoly on European natural gas supply and is dabbling anew in great power politics, is vehemently opposed to Nabucco. This is one of the reasons, Dr. Fine stressed, that Russia does not want to see regime change in Iran; the current anti-Western hard line ensures Iran’s illegitimacy in the West and thus prevents Iranian oil sales to Western powers.
Dr. Fine also touched on China and its crucial coal factor. China will inevitability decline the carbon emissions cap to be proposed at COP15, and India, along with other developing powers, will follow suit in rejecting emissions caps. But Dr. Fine argued that China’s emphasis on carbon capture synchronization, or CCS, demonstrates its relative advantage over the West in certain green energy issues.
Dr. Fine concluded by citing President Obama’s recent hard-line regulation speech on Wall Street as an outline of future policy. If regulation fails, Dr. Fine indicated it is likely that a pricing bubble will return in concert with a buying surge. But with regulation, and with stringent enforcement by both the U.S. and Europe, a permanent cap on oil prices can be established that will maintain transparency and coincide with the fair and natural price.