energy


click on the map to see the larger view

I spoke to family in Ghana tonight and asked what people were thinking about the oil discovery. Mostly it was very low on the list of concerns. And the general feeling I heard, was that the oil news is mostly government propaganda. This was a minimal part of the conversation, but interesting none the less.
I found the map above, showing the location of the oil discovery, and also the information below from rigzone.com:

Anadarko is the technical operator of the well with a 30.875% interest. Kosmos Energy is the block operator and holds a 30.875% interest. Other partners include Tullow Ghana Limited, an affiliate of Tullow Oil plc, with a 22.896% interest and Sabre Oil and Gas Limited with a 1.854% interest in the block. The E.O. Group, a Ghanaian oil and gas company, holds a 3.5% interest in the block. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation will be carried through the exploration and development phases with a 10% participating interest.

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There have been a number of reports of the discovery of a significant oil field off the coast of Ghana. Everyone I know is jubilating about it. Let us pray that Ghana does not fall victim to the oil curse. Poverty has increased in those countries that have oil, and agriculture that lets a country feed itself, has died.

Rawlings made some particularly brilliant moves when he governed Ghana, setting up the government in a way that tied a contemporary, and generally democratic government to traditional local and regional ways of governing. Ghana has the tools to make government work. Ghana also has problems with corruption that have gotten worse under Kufuor, who owes his position to some very corrupt people. Kufuor will be gone about the same time as Bush. He has used the Presidency as a paid travel vacation around the world. He is rarely and briefly in Ghana. Let us hope Ghanaians chose the next President wisely. Oil encourages corruption, and there are many dangers.

If Ghana is able to invest a significant portion of oil earnings in education, Ghana could become a regional strength and beacon. Ghana needs to restore compulsory free elementary education, as was the case after independence and before the coups. Ghana needs universal and compulsory secondary education, and it needs advanced learning, colleges and universities. The need and demand is there, but the supply has been neglected. Universities create economic success. For those parts of the United States that have invested heavily in universities, it has paid of in economic booms and sustained economic success. Businesses want to set up shop where they can find a trained and talented pool of workers. Education brings business, education develops business, and business brings money.

Ghana also needs to think long term. What happens when the oil runs out. Ghana needs to develop economic and energy resources independent of oil. And Ghana needs to protect her environment. No country yet has done very well in planning for the end of oil. I recently watched a tv program, Equator, in which Simon Reeves travels around the equator. In his travels through Gabon he said that with oil supplies depleted, and local agriculture barely in existence, President Bongo had declared a number of large forest areas as protected reserves, and is encouraging tourism as a source of income to replace oil. The program showed people in a rural village dancing for tourists, as that was their only means of making a living. They had little agriculture, and were forbidden to hunt in the reserves where they used to hunt. It made for a very peculiar situation. To my eye, there was little joy in the dance, and I really wondered what the tourists felt, and what they were thinking. I would not enjoy seeing this sort of thing again.

Some of the oil strike stories from:
The Statesman
The Daily Graphic
The Accra Daily Mail
Joy Online
BBC News

Also from BBC News:

Mr Kufuor said the discovery would give a major boost to Ghana’s economy.

We’re going to really zoom, accelerate… and you’ll see that Ghana truly is the African tiger
Ghana’s President John Kufuor

“Oil is money, and we need money to do the schools, the roads, the hospitals. If you find oil, you manage it well, can you complain about that?” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

I am praying fervently that he is right.

DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images
ODIOMA, NIGERIA: A villager walks through the ruins of the southern Nigerian community of Odioma, a fishing and trading centre, and a historic centre for the Ijaw people in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It was burned to the ground on 19 February 2005 by government troops. 17 people were reported to have been killed and two women raped when soldiers raided the town of Odioma. The attack was ostensibly to arrest members of an armed vigilante group suspected of killing 12 people, including four local councillors. Some of the raiders were reported to have been recruited by a sub-contractor of Shell’s subsidiary in Nigeria and to be responsible for security in an area where oil exploration was being conducted, despite their alleged criminal record. The suspects were not captured but 80 per cent of homes in Odioma were razed. . . . “We have nothing… If we protest, they send soldiers. They sign agreements with us and then ignore us. We have graduates going hungry, without jobs.” Eghare W.O. Ojhogar, chief of the Ugborodo community in Delta State

Here is the core of the debate over African oil development:

  • Can oil revenues be made to work for Africans or will they profit only the corrupt few?
  • Are oil revenues destined to fuel civil wars and pay for the abuse of human rights or can they build peace and prosperity?
  • Is oil development in Africa’s interest or in the interest of the United States (or, I would add, can the two interests be balanced)?
  • Can African oil and gas reserves be exploited without harming the environment, or is the expansion of the world’s oil-based economy ultimately inimical to our collective future on this planet?

There has been an enormous amount of contact and activity between the US and African countries in recent months.

From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials.

They’ve conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets. Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead “forward staging depots”, and “seaborne truck stops” for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are “protected anchorages” and offshore “lily pads” from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa’s oil and mineral wealth for decades to come.

. . . it’s about the oil. And the diamonds, and the uranium, and the coltan. But mostly about the oil.


When we ask the question; i
s oil development in Africa’s interest or in the interest of the United States? I would argue that unless it can be made in the interest of both, it is in the interest of neither. Unfortunately, the leadership in both places seems to have very little interest in the well being of the people they govern. And the leadership in both the US and in Africa seem to be thinking very short term. Even those countries in Africa that have some form of democracy, seem to want to practice something closer to a Bush administration style kleptocracy, rather than practicing more representative democracy.

And without more local and democratic participation in the decision making, and the profits, we have an unfolding environmental nightmare that is a political nightmare as well.

“West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world’s oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption.” A foretaste of American plans for African people and resources in the new century can be seen in Eastern Nigeria. US and multinational oil companies like Shell, BP, and Chevron, which once named a tanker after its board member Condoleezza Rice, have ruthlessly plundered the Niger delta for a generation. Where once there were poor but self-sufficient people with rich farmland and fisheries, there is now an unfolding ecological collapse of horrifying dimensions in which the land, air and water are increasingly unable to sustain human life, but the region’s people have no place else to go.
. . .
In a typical gesture of disregard for local black lives and livelihoods, the natural gas which sits atop many oil deposits but is more expensive to capture and process than petroleum is simply burned off or flared at African wellheads. Throughout the 1990s it is estimated that 29 million cubic feet per day of Nigerian natural gas was disposed of in this manner. Many of the flares, according to local Niger delta residents, have burned continuously for more than twenty years, creating a toxic climate of acid fogs and rains, depositing layers of soot and chemicals that stunt or kill ocean and riverine fish and livestock, and poison the few surviving crops. For this reason, flaring at oil wells has long been outlawed in the US. But many African communities near the mouth of one of the planet’s largest rivers are now entirely dependent on water trucked in from outside.
. . .
Local Africans are demanding respect and a share in what is after all, their oil. They are now routinely, viciously suppressed in eastern Nigeria, in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere, by African troops trained and equipped with American tax dollars. When resistance continues, as it certainly will, America is preparing to up the ante with more American equipment, with military and civilian advisers, with bombs, bullets and if need be, with American bodies. That’s what AFRICOM is about, and what it will be doing in the new century.

I hope this is an unduly pessimistic view. But keep in mind that it’s the Bush administration that is “looking after” US interests here. With the history of western involvement in Africa in mind, which continues to the present day, and the track record of Bush/Cheney, this pessimism looks like matter-of-fact realism, maybe even sunny optimism.

This is probably the single largest foreign policy-related failing among American politicians and members of the policy and media elites: A failure to make a serious effort to ask how things look from the perspective of other countries.



Rice calls brutal oil-rich dictator a “good friend.”
Condoleezza Rice sharing a photo-op with Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema is “one of the most brutal, most corrupt and unreconstructed dictators in the world”; he also controls the third-largest oil reserves in Africa.

The Council of Foreign Relations has published a Backgrounder on The Pentagon’s New Africa Command.

Though Africom will be led by a top-ranking four-star military general, unlike other regional commands, its deputy commander will be a State Department official.
. . .
Even if interagency personnel are brought into the command, it is not clear how instrumental they will be in the command’s decision-making process.
. . .
Some defense officials say that Africom could function like the interagency task force within Southern Command; in that structure, interagency members have the authority to make decisions without consulting Washington.

. . . lack of information extends to other aspects of the command.

Before Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, the US had the best trained and best equipped military in the world. There are many smart people in the military, patriotic people who understand the ideals and principles on which the country was founded: representative democracy, and the rule of law. Many soldiers understand these principles far better than the people currently running the US government. Training and cooperative agreements with the US military might be very beneficial in many countries, improving professionalism and competence.

Unfortunately, Rumsfeld and Cheney are the creators of the Africa Command. These two have never been right about anything in US policy. With Bush, they have broken the US military in Iraq, and it will take decades to recover. Their destructive incompetence has damaged or destroyed everything it has touched.

With all the talk of good intentions and cooperation, the actual deeds we can see do not look good. Immediately after the announcement of the creation of Africom:

. . .the Bush administration organized the overthrow of the first stable government Somalia has had since 1991, stirring up a hornet’s nest of regional rivalries in the strategic Horn of Africa.

And then there is Equatorial Guinea. It has huge oil deposits, and its leadership has been been described by a variety of human rights organisations as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.

Given the modest population size of Equatorial Guinea, about half a million people, one might expect there to be plenty of money for everyone by way of revitalizing the economy and building up infrastructure. But most Equatoguineans are malnourished, typically with no running water or electricity. Malaria and yellow fever are rampant. The average life expectancy is 54. Sewage runs free on the streets of Malabo, the capital city, and there is no public transportation. Most citizens eke out a living, as best they can, farming rice, yams, and bananas
. . .
For 1998, the IMF, which Obiang stated will never learn how much money he takes in, calculated that Obiang’s government received $130 million in oil royalties. The government had only reported $34 million (9). This record of mismanagement of revenues has led the World Bank and the IMF to discontinue many aid programs since 1993
. . .
African officials claimed that international oil interests influenced the U.N.’s decision to stop regular human rights monitoring in the troubled country.


The US government is good friends with Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, and US military assistance to date seems intent on shoring up his repressive regime.

The country is unstable, desperately poor, and run by a repressive government that is being challenged by a persistent armed resistance. . . With extensive “under-governed spaces” as potential terrorist havens and bordering countries with equally uncertain futures, the country was termed “a model country for security assistance” by the regional combatant command. Civilian embassy officials, however, are demonstrably less keen. They question the rate at which military programs are rapidly escalating and the sizable and still growing presence of U.S. military personnel in-country. . . It would be a major setback if the United States were to be implicated in support of operations shoring up the repressive regime, regardless of the stated intent of such training.

This is exactly what the US should not be doing. It is exactly what the delegations traveling around Africa are claiming is not happening, and that this is not the intention of Africom. But even if US citizens are not informed, other people around the world can see what is going on. And it does not look good.

A steroidal fantasy mercenary, and an offshore oil rig,
from the video game Mercenaries 2

The Spy Who Billed Me is a particularly interesting blog about outsourcing the “war on terror.” I very much appreciate Dr. Hillhouse’s well informed and balanced viewpoint, as well as her dry sense of humor. One thing that has grown up under Bush, Cheney, and their pal Rumsfeld, are private mercenary companies, and private CIAs. She calls it: the “post 9/11 period of the Golden Trench Coat when the private intelligence industry really came into being. ” The information and discussion you will find on this blog you will find nowhere else. As one friend said when I sent the link: “ this is the sort of thing that used to be available through very obscure and expensive newsletters, where the children couldn’t see it; making this public changes everything.”

The Bush Cheney administration has driven many of the top people out of the CIA. And many have wound up in private security companies. Right now these private corporations are mostly based in the US. But there are some signs of them moving offshore:

There are a lot of reasons to go offshore, taxes, liability and oversight . . . there’s the dimension of avoiding their services falling under ITAR (the US laws governing the export of military services) which would complicate and delay sales and very likely preclude some business all together. . . offshore entities would be free to conduct the kind of activities that Special Forces and spies do: destabilize governments, sabotage facilities, identify and train insurgents, etc. (emphasis mine)


Total Intel represents some of the best and brightest the CIA has produced and Blackwater commands a formidable group of tier-one Special Forces operators. Simply put, together these companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations–and I’m not talking Third World. Such capacity for covert operations has never before been in private hands–and for rent.


These companies are run by people who identify themselves as intensely patriotic Americans. That is relatively easy when you are employed by the Pentagon or the CIA. In theory, both organizations are established to support US interests, as government institutions. But when your services are for sale, you are working for your employer. And a corporate employer may have very different interests from the interests of the United States, or the interests of the government or citizens of whatever country where such a company may be working. And what happens when the corporate leadership evolves over time? Will the loyalties evolve?

The potential services are demonstrated in a theoretical scenario she provides for Exxon in Venezuela that has implications for the citizens and governments of African countries, particularly with the current focus on the oil in the Gulf of Guinea.

Well within the reach are services such as:

  • de-stabilization of governments hostile to a firm’s business;
  • identification, training and support of an armed insurgency, including separatist movements claiming sovereignty over a mineral-rich region; and
  • planning and execution of sabotage of a competitor’s foreign facilities.

In no way am I saying that Total Intel, Greystone and Blackwater are offering these services, but rather I am exploring the potential synergy of the CIA’s former top case officers and Special Activities Division operators combined with the best in Special Forces. They’ve done this type of work for their former US government employers, so why not for their corporate ones?

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario and examine the potential a little closer. When I think about good uses for such brains and brawn, oil and Venezuela come to mind. In late 2005 the Venezuelan government gave Exxon an ultimatum that it had to form a joint venture with the national oil company (it eventually did.) The state petroleum company has been very uncooperative, to put it mildly, and has caused the shut down of Exxon fields. Let’s just say it’s not a comfortable place for Exxon to do business.

If I were sitting in the Houston boardroom of a company that has seen governments come and go, I know what I’d be thinking: get rid of Chavez or at least make his life hell. And with over $100 million profits daily, I’d have the cash to buy the expertise that I needed. And that expertise that is now on the open market.

I’d hire spies to identify potential insurgency groups to support and to create the needed cutouts to conceal my involvement.
. . .

Once my spies have identified insurgent group(s) and potential leaders, I’d work with a private military organization that could:

assist in training indigenous resources in developing a capability to conduct defensive and offensive small group operations, including firearm training requirements. Off-the-shelf standard field operations packages consist of 30 days of training to support raid, reconnaissance, and small unit tactics.

I wouldn’t stop at an insurgency. I’d also use the spies for various psyops against the leadership and hire an espionage firm to identify potential targets within the military leadership and Chavez inner circles that could be compromised and used to seed suspicions and distrust among the inner circle. If my spies got lucky, they might even make Chavez believe a coup was imminent and his paranoia could spark a leadership purge. Then there’s always economic sabotage, inciting union unrest..the possibilities go on and on.

Would a Fortune 500 company do something like this?

We saw a few weeks ago that Chiquita was willing to give millions to terrorist organizations to further their business interests.

Oil companies have not been good or benign corporate citizens in African countries to date. With these kinds of services on the market are they likely to become more responsible and public spirited? These kinds of services allow a corporation to have its own active and intrusive foreign policy, one that is responsible to the citizens of no country.

2/2008 – You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.

(One of the) . . . continuously burning gas flares which had been lit and steadily burning for years, some for over 30 to 40 years, polluting the air with dangerous CO2 and methane gases, contributing fiercely to the global warming trend, while resulting in destructive acid rains and serious contamination of air, water and land. These flares were noisy, and one could feel there awful heat and smell their associated gases from hundreds of meters away. These bright fires at night lit up skies over the nearby villages. The flares danced wild like some distorted form of eternal flames casting somber shadows and eery orange light over the unfortunate Delta communities. Even the comfort of night’s natural darkness was robbed from these communities who existed on that terrible periphery of the oil industry’s wastefulness.

Harpers magazine interviewed journalist Nicholas Shaxson, the author of Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, asking him questions about African oil and American foreign policy. I am purchasing the book, will be reading it soon, and hope to report more. The whole article is fairly short and well worth reading:
Six Questions for Nicholas Shaxson on African Oil and American Foreign Policy

On the positive side he says:

Attitudes are changing. There’s growing awareness of environmental problems as well as rising interest in “corporate social responsibility,” so it’s a bit harder for oil companies these days to behave like colonial overlords. We are also beginning to understand the reasons for the “oil curse”—countries that strike oil tend to get poorer and more violent over time. . . Despite this new interest in the “oil curse”, old habits and temptations will always remain, because of the lure of oil.

And about the oil curse:

This is a pattern in oil zones. Villagers fight each other for compensation or jobs, and politicians fight each other for access to the oil money.

Shaxon discusses Gabon’s President Omar Bongo, the oil based sway he held over French politics, and whether similar scenarios exist or may evolve. With the private mercenary contractors and mini-CIAs that have grown up under Bush Cheney in Iraq, this may become a more pressing and complicated question. He points out that corruption is hardly a monopoly of African governments; western governments and financial institutions contribute more than their share to corrupt practices.

Shaxon also discusses the effect of oil on both Nigeria and Angola:

Q: A CIA official once told me that the consensus among Nigerians was that the country would have been better off if the oil was still in the ground. Has oil really been so detrimental to African countries that they’d be better off without it?

A: Angola’s oil-laden budget this year is about the same size as all foreign aid to all of sub-Saharan Africa—but according to the United Nations, Angola’s infant mortality is the second worst in the world, worse even than Afghanistan’s. At the start of the last oil boom in 1970, one-third of Nigerians lived in poverty; now, four hundred billion dollars in oil and gas earnings later, two-thirds are poor. People often put the problem like this: oil money would be a blessing but politicians steal it, so people don’t see the benefits. But it’s much worse: the oil wealth not only doesn’t reach ordinary people, but it actively makes them poorer. (emphasis mine) It took me years to really accept this counter-intuitive idea. But after all I’ve seen, I have no doubts.


The Iraqi hydrocarbon law, which was planned in Washington and is still pending, has many implications for West Africa. It shows the intentions of the western oil companies, and the Bush administration, toward any oil reserves they can exploit anywhere. African governments take heed. Some regard this law as the victory Bush and Cheney intended when they invaded Iraq.

You can read a discussion of the present status of the bill, and the various viewpoints here.

But I think The Spy Who Billed Me, which is a particularly noteworthy blog, states the situation most succinctly:

The proposed law will allow international oil companies to retain 70% of production over the next 30 years. An additional 20% of production will be tax-free. These are particularly lucrative terms. Countries that allow foreign ownership of a portion of production generally limit this to 20%. US allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have completely nationalized production and do not allow any portion to go directly to the firms.

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