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Home Archive March 2011 Issue

March 2011

From the Editor: The Revolution is Live

In 1970 the American artist and composer Gil Scott-Heron composed an angry and vibrant vocally driven jazz piece called ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’. The song rides along the vibe of seething unrest in a tumultuous America at the time and ends with the words, “The revolution will be no re-run brothers; the revolution will be live.” In the Twitter, Facebook, internet-connected age it’s hard not to draw parallels between Scott-Heron’s rap staccato lyrical vision (he’s often referred to as the God-father of Rap) and the raw, jagged and uneven edge of events rolling across the deserts of the Middle East. Skeptics may ask what this has to do with the issues of energy, power, security and stability? The fact is that the tsunami which is building across the MENA region, sparked by a fruit vendor in Tunisia whose scale for weighing his produce was confiscated by police in order to exact a bribe and when they failed to return it he subsequently set himself afire in protest, has everything to do with energy, power, security and stability.

Global market stability rides on the back of the price of oil. Oil is in the Middle East. The Middle East is trembling. Global markets quiver. Like so many of the Middle East’s petro-dictators desperately trying to cling to power, we as oil consumers are trying to deal with the symptoms of our own oil dependence (higher oil prices, a potential head-shot to global economic growth if contagion spreads further across the Arabian peninsula, cascading and increased unemployment at a time while global food prices have peaked to an all-time high [December 2010]) without addressing the disease (a general lassitude in creating economic and infrastructure environments that can furnish businesses and people with fuel alternatives to oil). There is no confusion here; oil prices did not trigger events now unfolding in the Middle East. However, dealing with oil and its myriad consequences is a responsibility for those of us found on the pointed-end of this stick.
 
Another aspect of the interesting times in which we live is that many of the issues, raised by JES contributors and followed by readers, are hybrid resource issues. The revolutions—there is no other word—we are witnessing are triggered by so many factors. The desperate bid of people to escape political and social repression have had not only short-term market repercussions but more importantly have brought about the collapse of long-standing seemingly intractable regimes. The water-energy-security nexus is yet another example of such a hybrid issue. This relationship has not yet sparked the kind of violence presently seen from Tripoli to Manama, but it is an important one to watch. This is why IAGS, publisher of the JES, in February co-sponsored along with our South African and Swedish partners a workshop on this nexus at the first annual South African Water and Energy Forum in Johannesburg. Water and energy are not silo, stand-alone issues but are intrinsically interconnected technically and are processed through the operating (e.g. security) environments that facilitate or encumber their generation and delivery. In short, many of the energy and security issues we face are altogether hybrid in nature and, if not dealt with properly, portend unforeseen developments we do not wish to imagine.  

This issue of the JES, consistent with this hybrid metaphor, looks at the policy complexities of national energy security strategies in Poland, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. With the Polish and Hungarian contributions we round-out our Visegrad coverage which begun several months ago with our Czech and Slovak contributions. This issue examines Mexico with the links and implications of Mexico’s drug-war on Pemex, Mexico’s state oil company; Nigeria with the coincidence in the manipulation of piracy with the pending April Nigerian elections; and the US with an update on challenges confronting the further roll-out of the Smart Grid which unwittingly is catalyzing new cyber-security vulnerabilities (if not adequately addressed by both industry and government). Iran and Russia’s fuel bank, DoD energy use, and rare earths are all addressed in this our most complete coverage of energy and security issues to date. Take a deep breath, have a good read and remember the revolution is live and this is not television.
 

Common Misconceptions of Rare Earth Elements

Common Misconceptions of Rare Earth Elements

The issue of rare earths, and their treatment by the Chinese, has become a global political football kicked about by import-dependent consumers. While 'rare earths' cannot be discounted for their strategic input into various products ranging from i-pods, radars, and wind turbines, their treatment by China, the world's largest producer of these elements, is nuanced. Contributor Cindy Hurst dispels some of the broad misconceptions regarding rare earths on the eve of the IAGS TREM Center's second annual "Strategic Metals for National Security and Clean Energy" conference to be held in March in Washington D.C.

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Solutions for Russian-Ukrainian Gas Brinksmanship

On 28 January 2011, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich used the World Economic Forum in Davos as a platform to publicly attack Russian gas pipeline policy. This speech was only the most recent sign of growing tensions between the two countries over the continuing gas dispute that many hoped would decrease following Ukraine’s 2010 election of the seemingly pro-Russian president Yanukovich. Specifically at issue is Russian investment in the Nord and South stream pipelines that will reduce Russia and Europe’s dependence on Ukraine as a gas transit country. Heading off future gas disputes between these two countries is an imperative for European supply security, but the EU needs to sit down at the bargaining table and begin playing a larger role.

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The Nuclear Fuel Bank and Iran

The idea of a nuclear fuel bank goes back to US President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program which sought to both provide access to nuclear materials for peaceful application and dissuade countries from developing their own nuclear weapons programs through uranium enrichment. The question here is whether this mechanism is sufficient to dissuade those countries with nuclear ambitions that go beyond peaceful purposes.

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The Lull Before the Storm: Maritime Piracy and Election Violence in the Niger Delta

The Lull Before the Storm: Maritime Piracy and Election Violence in the Niger Delta

Nigeria is quickly moving towards its April 2011 elections with a projected short-term slowdown in the frequency of Nigerian maritime piracy. This would mirror similar slowdowns in piracy activities during other Nigerian electoral periods in 2002 and 2006 only to spike after the period expires. The dynamics between pirates, electoral politics and violence in Nigeria's offshore domains are explored in detail by Danish contributors Thomas Horn Hansen and Dirk Steffen. It appears that Nigerian off-shore pirates are becoming increasingly more organized and violent, having learned from their Niger Delta mentors. We are compelled to ask ourselves whether this short window before April is simply a lull before a pending storm.

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Combating Smart Grid Vulnerabilities

Combating Smart Grid Vulnerabilities

It sounds like a paradox: In order to make the grid more secure we’re making it less secure. That is, we’re adding new information technology, massively interconnecting many new systems with older systems, and encouraging customers to interact with their utilities via web portals that connect with Smart Grid systems. But for those in the trenches of this massive modernization effort, it makes sense. The electrical industry is working hard to bring itself up to speed on enterprise cyber security best practices. And capabilities that make the grid smarter are also making it more self-aware and resilient, and better able to identify vulnerabilities ahead of time, to detect attacks in their early stages, and to rapidly reconfigure systems to ensure the reliability essential to the health of our economy and our nation.

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The Perilous Intersection of Mexico’s Drug War & Pemex

The Perilous Intersection of Mexico’s Drug War & Pemex

Corruption, kidnappings, theft and intimidation are the hallmarks of Mexico's drug lords. All of these onerous activities are now gnawing at the legs of Pemex, Mexico's state-owned oil company. In 2008 Pemex reportedly lost some $2 billion due to illegal tapping, siphoning, and hijacking of crude oil and fuel to criminal elements, some of whose interests are more closely aligned to exporting illegal drugs to satisfy the voracious appetite for these products north of the Mexican-US border. But this isn't Mexico's problem alone. US energy security, predicated on the important Mexican-US trade in oil and oil products, may now be threatened. This is a US national security issue.

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Politicking Over Central Asia’s Pipelines

Politicking Over Central Asia’s Pipelines

Many in the international community, not the least of which the UN Security Council, have been actively lobbying for years to reign in Iran's nuclear program due to the danger it presents to both regional and international security. The spillover effects of these efforts are impacting on the development potential of Central Asian/Middle Eastern pipeline projects. The US has championed the TAPI (Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistan-India) pipeline while Iran seeks to see an Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline built which would provide it increased access to global capital. However, both projects are beleaguered with numerous barriers, and the stakes are high for China, which has invested heavily in Iranian upstream oil and gas development. Hooman Peimani picks apart the politicking behind both of these projects and in doing so deciphers what is at stake for all parties involved.

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DoD’s Addiction to Oil: Is there a Cure?

DoD’s Addiction to Oil: Is there a Cure?

It has not been an easy task to wean neither the American vehicle fleet nor the US Department of Defense off of petroleum. However, a smarter use of jet fuel may actually contribute to a better balance of high and low-end forces, leaving the military with greater flexibility in system use and deployment, argues Fred C. Beach at the University of Texas at Austin. The US Federal Government consumes some 2% of all US petroleum, and the DoD is by far the most dominant consumer of these products. Can the DoD reduce the amount of petroleum it consumes without compromising US military operations and effectiveness? Dr. Beach thinks so.

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