Polar Role-Reversal

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Among the world turmoil occupying us in this run-up to the 2014 Christmas period, one alarming development that you may well have missed was Denmark’s filing of a formal claim on Monday to the area of the North Pole. For some years – and particularly now that the melting of the Northern icecap is laying them bare – the considerable oil & gas natural resources said to be just under the Arctic Sea floor have piqued the interest of those countries lying along its periphery in trying to extend their sovereignties as far as possible into that area, consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

You’re right, Denmark does not itself border the Arctic Ocean; what does is Greenland, whose foreign and defense policies Denmark still controls, even as it otherwise enjoys self-government. Indeed, it is an underwater ridge that extends from Greenland through the Arctic area that constitutes the legal basis for Denmark’s claim.

So now we have this self-reflective comment from the website of DR, or Danmarks Radio, the Danish government-owned national TV and radio network.

Forsker_Nordpol
You could say this is a bold, even audacious, move and those interests it challenges directly (aside from the well-known seasonal actors – Hello Santa!) are mainly Canada and Russia. Particularly Russia, as we realize from this quote in the linked DR piece from a Danish journalist who has written extensively about the Arctic:

This is a gigantic piece of the sea-floor that Denmark and Greenland are now claiming. This extends – and this is the surprising thing – the entire way over to Russia’s nautical border. Danish politicians have therefore chosen to use all means provided to them by the UN’s oceans commission.

It is a surprise; this is Denmark we are talking about here. Or, as the comedian Craig Ferguson just put it:

The Danes are causing a bit of trouble. The kingdom of Denmark claimed the North Pole as their own. Hey, you can’t just reach out and take something if you want it, Denmark. That’s Russia’s job.

Indeed. That DR Nyheder tweet literally reads “Russia as meek as a lamb in the Arctic – we are the aggressive ones.” How could this be? This is Putin’s Russia we are talking about, after all, and the Danes, whose neighbors haven’t had anything to complain about since Viking times.

Could it have something to do with the very recent drastic weakening of Putin’s geopolitical position brought about by the collapse of the oil price and the ruble? Is the lack (so far) of Russian reaction the first sign we have that these troubles will likely tone down Russia’s behavior after all? Not according to Jakob Busk Olsen, who wrote this DR piece; he instead reckons that Russian decision-makers are too aware how the region is so hostile to man that absolute lack of conflict is necessary for anyone to be able to safely make the substantial investments (in offshore drilling platforms, etc.) to exploit those resources. Better to not rock the boat.

And why is Denmark acting so aggressively to safeguard to itself access to those presumed oil and gas deposits, when that country is among the world’s pioneers in transitioning away from fossil fuels? The key thing to remember here is that the Kingdom is actually acting on behalf of its semi-ward Greenland; it clearly would like to be rid of its remaining obligations there, but Greenland will eventually be able to stand on its own feet economically mainly with its own trousseau of fossil-fuel assets.

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Where’s the Fuel?

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Strange news from out of the Czech Republic, where it seems around 5.5 million liters (= 3,594 barrels) of oil from the state strategic reserve has just disappeared, according to Dagmar Klimovičová at Hospodářské noviny.

Nafty
It appears the Czech government subcontracted the task of managing its strategic reserve to Viktoriagruppe AG, a German company headquartered in Munich. That was its first mistake; allowing Viktoriagruppe to take part of that reserve outside of the Czech Republic was its second.

The Viktoriagruppe company . . . has not been able to explain reasonably since 23 September where 5.5 million liters of this material has gone to from its German storage facilities at Krailling [just outside of Munich]. Rather, it has been firing employees as it faces legal proceedings from Czech and German customs and financial authorities.

Viktoriagruppe also runs oil storage facilities for the Czech strategic reserve – for now – at three separate sites within the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, that state petroleum reserve company (known as ČEPRO) is now busy having the oil Viktoriagruppe stores there – 15 million liters of it, or 94,347 barrels – transferred to other facilities under ČEPRO’s direct control; that, together with doing the same with the remaining oil stored in Germany, is now “our primary interest” according to under-fire ČEPRO head Pavel Švager.

That oil still in Germany, according to this piece, is “many times more” than the 15 million liters ČEPRO is seizing back from Viktoriagruppe’s Czech facilities; journalist Klimovičová understandably won’t give the precise figure since, even though no doubt such a figure exists somewhere in the books, the real one won’t be known until the comprehensive audit of just how much Viktoriagruppe is holding there in Krailling for the Czech Republic is complete.

This isn’t the first such run-in ČEPRO has had with Viktoriagruppe, writes Klimovičová: just last summer there was another discrepancy, of around 700 million liters, discovered during another audit of the latter’s German holdings of the Czech reserve. Viktoriagruppe officials tried to blame the shortfall on losses due to the transport and storage processes, but ended up paying a CZK 500,000 (€17,960) fine anyway.

The larger issue though, of course, is that of storing one’s national “family jewels” on foreign soil, and therefore outside of direct national control. Perhaps it’s something to be avoided, whenever possible, as the Czechs are finally finding out now.

At least we are not talking here about the analogous case of the national gold supply: it is true that many countries have theirs stored outside their borders, for various historical reasons, at places like New York (mainly at the New York Fed) and London. I don’t know whether that applies to the Czech national gold supply; who knows what happened to it between Nazi and Soviet occupations of the country last century, and in any case what was left of it presumably was split with Slovakia during the “Velvet Divorce” at the beginning of 1993. The good news here – while also bad news – is that that petroleum reserve is now steadily dropping in value anyway, what with the recent fall in oil prices worldwide.

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Syrian Oil: Delayed Sanctions

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

So the European Union has finally hit Bashar al-Assad’s Syria regime where it hurts, with an embargo on the oil that country sells. But the Berliner Morgenpost warns us not to get too carried away:

Syrien: EU hat es mit dem Ölembargo nicht eilig http://t.co/NOKM6Jq

@BMOnline

Morgenpost / BERLIN


You see, these sanctions take effect only on November 15! Yes, no new contracts for oil delivery can be concluded effective immediately, but the old ones must be adhered to until then.

The villain here is Italy, which demanded this delay citing “a technical requirement.” Meanwhile, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja had it right with his observation: “If we really mean it, we should act immediately.” Sure, in the same announcement the EU added 54 further members of the Al-Assad regime’s inner circle to the “no-travel” and “assets frozen” lists. But the embargo is the truly meaningful blow to Assad, and there are Syrian protesters still being killed daily – at least 17 yesterday, according to opposition reports. How long can they hold out? How long can those many thousands continue to take to the streets, knowing they are likely to encounter gunfire from the authorities, as their national economy collapses around them?

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Troubled OPEC Seeks Expansion

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Russia as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC): how does that idea sound to you? What with the low oil price prevailing nowadays (lately just below $45 for a barrel of Brent crude), that seems just the ticket to Shakib Khelil, Algerian Minister for Energy and acting OPEC President, who recently declared that “Russia will provide a particular importance to OPEC if she re-joins it, that will augment OPEC’s power to control production, which would be around 50% instead of [the present] 40% of global production.” This was according to an article in the French daily Le Monde: Russia invited to rejoin OPEC. (more…)

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Good News for You SUV Owners!

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

From the leading Dutch business newspaper Het Financiële Dagblad comes a report about an encouragement pronouncement from current OPEC chairman Chakib Khelil (OPEC Chairman Khelil Sees Oil Price Sharply Falling).

According to Khelil, the price-per-barrel of over $140 that we recently saw for oil was “abnormal.” (more…)

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