Friday, June 24, 2011

wiki-Leaks in the Saudi oil supply line

Deringolade (def.: rapid decline or deterioration; a tumble) has been giving dissertations of dubiousness as to the dramatically stated dangers of peak oil. While I agree that the certitude that people display as to the rapidity, and completeness of this collapse at times takes on the clarity associated with religious revelation, it none-the-less certainly needs to be included within the subset of problems that look to be major hurdles for contemporary society going forward.
I have been reading Alex Scarrow’s exciting Last Light.   Although referred by some as a “peak oil” novel, it would be more accurate to call it an “assisted” peak oil novel.  As much mayhem as the naughty illuminati Bavarian cream pie conspirators are able to pull off, I am not sure if it matter much if we have 20 or 200 years of oil left- the novel is as much about the fragility of the system as it as about remaining reserves.

As it notes:

Oil is like the twentieth-century version of the Roman slave economy.  We’ve grown used to having it.  It does everything for us…this economist calculated that the average American or Western European would require ninety-six slaves tending to him night and day, to maintain this lifestyle we’ve all grown accustomed to….

[The report] focused on eleven specific nodes in the global oil distribution web; nodes that were vulnerable to the sort of hit-and-run tactics favored by terrorist groups….If all eleven of these highest risk distribution chokepoints were to be hit within a twenty-four hour period, the global distribution of oil would be completely shut off.

Now I don’t know if Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia makes that list of eleven:  70% of Saudi Oil exports pass through it.  Its oil is sent to at least three different export terminals and via a 395 mile pipeline to the Shaybah oil field.  But baring the ability to mine the Straits of Hormuz, 70% of 12% of the world’s oil flow would certainly have to rank high on a the list of choke points.

Al Qaida thought so back in February 2006 when there suicide bombers made the attempt.  Fortunately their attempt was foiled, and the world took a sigh of relief at the level of security displayed by Saudi Interior Department forces.

Apparently there was an element of luck, rather than diligence, that stopped that attack and WikiLeaks has exposed concerns about the main Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq.

Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers 13 June 2011 (hat tip NC).

"We did not save Abqaiq, God did," Prince Muhammad bin Naif is quoted as saying in a secret cable that the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, sent to the State Department in Washington on Aug. 11, 2008.

After the attempted attacks in Abqaiq, the State Department cables show, the U.S. and the Saudi government set up a joint working group to find ways to improve security. The U.S. even drafted a team from the Energy Department's prestigious Sandia National Laboratories to conduct a wide ranging assessment of design and safety weaknesses throughout the Saudi oil industry.

In fighting between the Aramco, the Saudi state oil company, and  the Saudi Ministry of the Interior (MOR) made improvements difficult.  MOR accused the Aramco having known members of extremist groups on their staff and tried to exclude them from security issues.  Aramco returned the favor by accusing the MOR protective forces of smoking and driving vehicles too near to sensitive portions of the facility. It is not entirely clear if Aramco security upgrades have been designed more to keep the terrorists or MOR forces away.

While al Qaida was a top U.S. concern, Saudi security officials …worried about an attack from Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival across the Persian Gulf. The cables also show that Saudi officials often worried that the Eastern Province's Shiite Muslim population might side with Shiite-ruled Iran in a confrontation between the two countries.

"He stated it would not have to be a highly accurate missile to cause serious operational damage to Saudi oil operations, even a 'stupid' missile could do so," the June 17 cable said, referring to Jabri. "He expressed worries with a 'layered' attack by both military forces and terrorists, which could then be compounded by a Shi'a reaction in the Eastern Province. He stated, 'we would like to be prepared for worst case scenarios, we do not want any surprises.'"

The Saudis also were aware of other points of weakness:

the Saudis pointed out that damage to any of the nation's three largest power plants could idle far more oil production than an actual strike on any number of oilfields.

Eventually the decision was made to train the Saudi security forces in the same techniques that are use to defend nuclear power facilities around the world, but the U.S. embassy still had concerns:

"The continuing vulnerability of Saudi Arabia's strategic oil and gas production facilities represents an Achilles' heel for U.S. strategic interests in the kingdom and throughout the Gulf region, not to mention US economic security in general," the cable concluded. "In the estimation of the MOI, these facilities face a serious threat from both al Qaida and Iran."

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