News & Politics

Got Oil?


Seeing Dubya and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia strolling like prom dates in Crawford made me wonder: What if Iran really is interested in nuclear power?


OK, it wasn’t the photo of the Prez and the Prince that made me wonder that, it was this passage in a sharp Daily News analysis piece:

“The Saudis have been putting as much oil on the market as they can,” and Saudi Arabia is the only member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries with marginal excess capacity, said Tom Bentz, an analyst at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures.


So Saudi is the only OPEC country that can actually loosen the spigot, at least right now. This drives home the lesson that even the oil-rich Middle East faces limits on petroleum production: short-term limits on what can be pumped, and long-term limits on how much oil there is in the ground.

Those long-term limits aren’t supposed to bite yet, especially in Iran. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, “Iran holds 125.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, roughly 10 percent of the world’s total, up from 90 billion barrels in 2003.”

That’s why State Department spokesman Richard Boucher once dismissed Iran’s contention that its nuke work is peaceful by saying, “We don’t see the economic or any other rationale for a country like Iran to try to generate power with nuclear energy, given that… they flare off way more gas every year than they could get energy from nuclear power plants of the kind that they’re talking about.”

In other words, what would Iran need with nuclear energy? Answer: Nothing. Ergo, their pursuit of nuclear power must be military.

But if you believe the reports that have blamed spy agencies—rather than policymakers’ lies—for the intelligence failures in Iraq, you understand the pre-war trap that the CIA, DIA, NSA, and F—in’ A fell into: Basing explanations for certain behavior on preconceived notions.

In this case, the notion is that Iran has plenty of oil. Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum once said the same thing, you know. Then in 2003 it had to sharply lower its estimates for the reserves it owned. Reserves are a tricky thing, as the Environmental Literacy Council points out:

In 1988 there was a 27 percent increase in proven reserves, not because new oil wells had been discovered, but because several OPEC countries changed their accounting procedures, including Iran, which reported a 90 percent increase in its reserves.


Sure, Iran very well could be seeking The Bomb and have plenty of oil. But it seems premature to assume that Iran has no possible economic motive for pursuing nuclear power. After all, it’s bad news either way: a Muslim fundamentalist nuke versus a sudden stop to the fossil-fuel way of life.


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