Peter Dykstra: As inevitable as blood and taxes
Like the impending catastrophe in our future, the tragedies unfolding in Ukraine are rooted in oil.
One of the lesser known aspects of the First World War was Britain’s effort to corner the then nascent oil market of the Middle East.
“Oil explorer” William Reynolds spent seven years drilling dry holes in the desert in what is now known as Iran before his first big strike in 1908. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was born and the rush was on.
Turkey militarily challenged Britain’s oil control during and after the war. A young lands minister named Winston Churchill fended them off, including the first primitive aerial use of chemical weapons: barrels of phosgene gas launched from a biplane.
The Turks had a major oil strike near Kirkuk, Iraq, in 1927. In Saudi Arabia, 11 years later, an American-owned well came on stream – the first strike in what has become the largest field oilfield in the world.
During World War II, an important part of Japan’s strategy was to cripple the US Navy and then race to capture the oil fields in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Germans staged their ill-fated betrayal of the Soviet Union in part to seize the Caspian Sea oil fields. While many believe the Nazis lost the war with this failed decision, it was a loss caused by an army’s need for oil.
In 1953, tired of his country’s loyalty to oil, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized Big Oil’s Iranian assets. He was the victim of a coup the same year, even though it took nearly 70 years for the United States to admit what the rest of the world had long assumed: the CIA had organized the coup. .
Let’s race through some oilier events.
- The ‘energy crisis’ of 1973 saw a supply crunch by OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and pushed U.S. gasoline prices to 36 cents per gallon (yikes !). A repeated OPEC embargo in 1979 saw prices soar as high as 86 cents (equivalent to $2.31 per gallon in recent prices).
- The 1979 Iran hostage crisis upended US foreign policy and brought down Jimmy Carter as one-term president. Iranians were still in turmoil over the overthrow of Mosaddegh and dozens of other indignities.
- George HW Bush’s liberation of Kuwait in 1991-92 after it was occupied by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq saw the largest intentional release of oil in history as Iraq abandoned its offshore wells in the Persian Gulf.
- His son, George W. Bush, looked America in the eye during his 2006 State of the Union address and said, “America is addicted to oil.” In the last two years of his presidency, we have done almost nothing to break this habit.
- In March 2010, President Barack Obama authorized an expansion of offshore drilling, saying advances in technology ensure that offshore operations “generally don’t spill out.” Three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and triggering the largest oil spill in history.
And now, with oil and gas as the economic base, Vladimir Putin and Russia are said to be committing war crimes as he invades Ukraine.
There is one thing that bothers me about America’s strange love affair with oil. Many of us are intensely disturbed, even offended, when we perceive that Big Government is holding us back through excessive taxation or regulation. But we tend to cut Big Oil much more when prices explode (even when the US “rooftop” is half that of Europe).
Its views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or the publisher Environmental Health Sciences.
Banner photo: Moldova – People fleeing the military offensive in Ukraine. (Credit: UN Women)
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