Uncle Sam's Crude Solution

Our Expensive, Deadly Role as Global Oil Police

VENEZUELA This hemisphere's established line to cheap crude, Venezuela has always been a bastion for the international oil companies. It's our third largest supplier, so our interests there are regarded as a matter of paramount concern.

Evidence, though inconclusive, points to U.S. officials' having fomented the abortive coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last April because they feared his populist politics. More to the point, as a recent head of OPEC, Chavez could direct the oil cartel from Bush's backyard, although in recent months he's been doing just the opposite—busting OPEC's price levels to rake in dollars and help pay off Venezuela's debt. Nonetheless, Washington has always dreaded the prospect of Venezuela linking up with Mexico inside OPEC.

COLOMBIA The U.S. has maneuvered itself smack into the middle of Colombia's civil war, ostensibly with the goal of eradicating dope (an endless and futile effort), but also to protect an Occidental Oil pipeline that has been carrying increasing amounts of oil destined for the U.S. Local rebels have attacked this line 170 times, and last week struck again, disrupting operations.

Our answer to the war has been the $1.3 billion Plan Colombia, a program that got another $98 million early this year for protection of the Occidental works.

The Occidental pipeline made the news during the Clinton administration because Al Gore's family had been a longtime holder of Occidental stock and the company contributed to Gore's political campaigns, including his run for president.

CANADA AND MEXICO Buoyed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. is steadily implementing a "continental policy" of draining more and more petroleum products from the huge storage bin in the Canadian north, while increasing our take from Mexico. In both places, big international oil companies call the shots.

When it comes to energy, Canada is a U.S. satrapy. American investment replaced British rule at the turn of the 20th century. By the 1970s, American companies controlled two-thirds of the fuel industry, including a good three-quarters of the petroleum-refining sector. A Standard Oil affiliate led the way. Americans owned the key long-distance oil pipeline, although the Canadian government at that time controlled the flow of natural gas.

Today, U.S. companies look forward to exploiting the oil-rich Mackenzie Delta, Arctic land encompassing parts of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and to harnessing Canada's substantial hydroelectric resources for New York and other East Coast cities. What's more, the industry is again considering a scheme to build a natural gas pipeline, costing billions of dollars, from Alaska through Canada down toward Chicago. Ripping up the Arctic means wholesale invasion of Inuit and other native people's lands—but it also means filling up SUVs.

What we don't get out of Canada's privatized oil industry, we will suck out of Mexico. There the industry is controlled by a corrupt state company, but much of the oil and gas reserves are in the hands of American lessees. The idea is to gradually build up a network of pipelines leading into the southwestern U.S.

There's also the issue of moving liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Because of the danger of enormous fires, most of the U.S. coastline is off limits to LNG tankers. Most recently, oil companies have come up with a plan to build an LNG terminal in Baja California. Gas from such places as Australia, Indonesia, and Latin America could enter there, then be transported by pipeline into the U.S., where the clean fuel is in keen demand for making electricity.

Additional research: Rebecca Winsor, Gabrielle Jackson, and Waris Rashaad Banks

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