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Conflict In Gaza Threatens US Middle East Strategy

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The starting point for all sound intelligence analysis of a particular action is to identify who gains from it and what it is that they gain. As the new tit-for-tat conflict between Israel and Palestine continues to escalate such analysis reveals the following: overall Palestine will gain nothing except sympathy from already sympathetic supporters, Israel will gain nothing although it may bolster the flagging domestic support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but those countries that want to destroy the nascent U.S.-Israeli-led ‘relationship normalisation’ strategy stand to gain precisely what they want.
Top of this list of beneficiaries is obviously Iran, which has the motive, means, and opportunity to stoke the ever-simmering conflict between Palestine and Israel to such a point that Arab states that have long seen the Palestine conflict as a reason not to join the new U.S., Israeli-led initiative (most notably, Saudi Arabia and its King Salman) have been vindicated. Fracturing the relationship between the U.S., Israel and those countries that have already signed up to the normalisation deals notably the UAE and Bahrain is also a possibility as evidenced last week.
Up until just two weeks ago, for example, the UAE’s key sovereign wealth vehicle Mubadala was intent on formally ratifying an in-principle agreement to buy from Israel’s Delek Drilling its 22 percent stake in the Tamar natural gas field operated by U.S. oil and gas giant, Chevron. Given the size of the deal at least US$1.1 billion and the fact that each of the countries behind the U.S.-Israel-UAE normalisation deal signed last August are significantly involved in it, the deal was rightly regarded as being one of the most significant material developments since Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise ties last year.
For Israel, over and above the financial value of the deal is the strategic significance of the Tamar gas field that lies in the eastern Mediterranean as it is one of the country’s primary energy sources, able to produce 11 billion cubic metres of gas each year. This is sufficient not just to cover much of the Israeli gas energy market but also to lay the basis for the strategically important roll out of gas exports to Egypt and Jordan. Underlining this, last month saw a comment from Delek Drilling’s chief executive officer, Yossi Abu, that the deal potentially marked:“A strategic alignment in the Middle East, whereby natural gas becomes a source of collaboration in the region.” The deal was to have been finalised this month, which in turn would have opened up the way for further co-operation between Mubadala and Delek Drilling in the nearby and even larger Leviathan gas field. Last week, though, Tamar field operator Chevron shut down the offshore Tamar gas platform Israel amid an escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine.
Should this trend of increasing violence between Palestine and Israel continue then this may not be the only commercial deal under threat as the very basis of the relationship normalisation strategy between Israel and Arab States comes into question. This deal between Israel and the UAE announced on 13 August came at around the same time as Israel’s Netanyahu announced that he was suspending plans to annex more areas of the West Bank that it seized during the 1967 Six Dar War. At that time, the UAE had two principal aims in signing such an agreement. One was that it wanted to put itself firmly in the U.S.’s most-favoured allies group for receiving future business and financing deals, as it had suffered a big hit from the Saudi-led oil price war that had just ended. The other was that it wanted to be included in the U.S., Israel intelligence and security network to protect itself from the growing influence of Iran.
For Iran, the potential danger that this new U.S., Israel power axis posed is huge. Partly this is a result of increased security threats (via a massively expanded Israeli-led intelligence operation) coming from the UAE in its south and south – western provinces and partly this is due to the likelihood that when the current ruler leader of its deadliest regional enemy, Saudi Arabia dies (and King Salman is in very poor health), his successor, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), may join the relationship normalisation grouping.
Although King Salman told the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation just last year that the Palestinian cause remained a core issue and that the kingdom “refuses any measures that touch the historical and legal position of East Jerusalem,” MbS is believed to be far more sympathetic to the agreement. Even Saudi’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, cautiously welcomed the Israel, UAE agreement, saying: “It could be viewed as positive.” It is also apposite to note that back in 2002 not that long ago in global geopolitical terms, it was the Saudis who launched the ‘Crown Prince Abdullah Peace Plan’ at the Beirut Arab summit, offering Israel full recognition in exchange for a return to its pre-1967 borders.
That Iran should seek to leverage this perennial and deep-seated issue of Palestine at this point is entirely unsurprising, as Iran has nothing to lose and everything to gain if it plays the situation correctly. On the one hand, the longer the current violence between Palestine and Israel continues and even better for Iran if Israel launches a ground invasion the less likely it is that any other Arab state will join the U.S.-led relationship normalisation deal strategy in the region, including Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, given that the key power in Palestine Hamas is extremely closely tied to Iran (along with Hezbollah in nearby Lebanon), Iran might eventually be called upon through diplomatic back-channels to broker some sort of peace with Palestine. In such an event, Iran would undoubtedly seek a dropping of Washington’s hardline clauses for the new draft of the nuclear deal that it is currently on-and-off negotiating with the U.S.
Although the relationship between Iran and Hamas had cooled off in around 2012 when the military-political grouping that essentially runs Palestine decided to back the Syrian opposition against ruling President, Bashar al-Assad contrary to Iran’s wishes, financial necessity on Hamas’s part warmed relations back up again around three years ago. In 2018, according to then-Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that most of the US$260 million that Hamas invested in 2017 in making tunnels and weapons came from Tehran.
Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that Iran had agreed to provide US$30 million per month to Hamas in return for information on Israel’s missile capabilities and its missile locations, following a meeting two weeks ago between nine senior members of Hamas’s militant wing and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in Tehran. Even more recently, the commander-in-chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami, warned that Israel was vulnerable to one large tactical operation because the country is so small and highlighted the recent firing of an S-200 missile from Syria as an example of how effective a sustained bombardment by short-range missiles might be.
Watkins writes for Oilprice.com

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BUA Group, A’Ibom Sign MoU For Refinery’s Access Road

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Bua Group has signed a memorandum of understanding, (MoU), with Akwa Ibom State Government, and the host communities in Ibeno Local Government Area, for the construction of access road to the proposed Bua Refinery and Petrochemical plant site in Ibeno, last week.
Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Power and Petroleum Development, Dr. John Etim, who presided over the signing of the MoU, applauded BUA for their commitment to the project, prompt documentation and the preparation of the site towards the construction of the refinery.
Etim said that the refinery project will bridge the gap between host communities and Akwa Ibom State, thereby bringing about more developments in the oil and gas sector of the State.
The Commissioner called on all parties concerned to be committed to the terms of agreement and to ensure that peace dominates their relationship, while appealing to the host communities to protect the facilities which is now in their custody
“The refinery and petrochemical project is in line with the Governor’s vision to industrialise the State, develop local capacity in key industries where value can be added and raw materials sourced locally.”
Speaking shortly after the MoU signing, the Chairman of Ibeno local government, Williams Mkpa, expressed delight over the development, describing it as a giant stride in the industrialisation vision of the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The paramount ruler of the area, Owong Effiong Archianga, assured the company of his people’s unalloyed support and cooperation to see to the actualisation of the project.

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CSO Urges Oil Communities To Challenge PIA In Court

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A Civil Society Organisation, Policy Alert, has faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, urging communities to test the provisions of the Act before the courts.
President Buhari had signed the erstwhile Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, into law last Monday amidst protests from community groups and many other stakeholders that the Bill do not adequately cover the rights and interests of the host communities.
In a statement signed by its Communications and Stakeholders Engagement Officer, Mrs. Nneka Luke-Ndumere, Policy Alert, which is working for economic and ecological justice, described the presidential assent to the PIB as “grossly insensitive and problematic.
“It is sad that the bill has been assented to in the most controversial manner despite its many obvious flaws and its rejection by many stakeholders,” the statement read.
It added: “For example, the controversial provision for a direct payment of 30 percent profit oil and profit gas to the Frontier Exploration Fund potentially shortchanges the oil producing states and local governments of some of its thirteen percent derivation as it bypasses the requirement in section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that all revenues be channeled through the federation account.
“This is most unfair, viewed against the ceding of only three percent of previous years’ operating expenses to the Host Communities Development Trust Fund and the punitive provision to charge costs of any damage to facilities against the community’s Fund, among other obnoxious provisions.
“That Mr. President has gone ahead to give assent to these vexing provisions only reinforces the politics of exclusion and expropriation that has for long characterised the relationship between the Nigerian state and the oil producing communities.
“We are also concerned that the host communities’ component of the legislation flies in the face of one of its stated objectives to address tensions between host communities and companies as it has all the ingredients for escalating rather than abating such conflicts.
“At a time when fossil fuel investments are being deprioritised elsewhere as a result of the global energy transition, it is unfortunate that this Act failed to provide a bridge between the current era of fossil fuel dependency and the low-carbon energy future that Nigeria aspires to within the framework of government’s much vaunted commitments under the Paris Agreement.”
The statement also said: “Granted, the new legal framework introduces some predictability and clarity to the governance and fiscal arrangements in the oil and gas industry. We are also not oblivious to certain clauses that respond to some of our earlier demands, such as those providing that the Board of Trustees of the Host Communities Development Trust will now be determined in consultation with the host communities, with  membership drawn from community members. But that is just as far as it goes.
“As a tool for improved benefit sharing to host communities, the Act falls flat on its face. It actually ridicules the exertions of the host communities and advocacy groups that have clamoured over the years for a law that yields some space for participation, direct socio-economic benefits and environmental remediation for oil-rich communities.
“The theatre of action will now have to move to the communities and the courts of law. As implementation of the Act gets underway over the next 12 months, we urge host communities and civil society groups to begin to seek interpretation of some of its more controversial provisions before the courts.”

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Kyari Tasks Greenfield Refinery On Fuel Importation

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The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, has charged members of the Board of the NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited (NGRL), to explore all available options to bring an end to the current challenge of petroleum products importation.
Mallam Kyari gave the charge Thursday while inaugurating the Board of the newly incorporated subsidiary of the Corporation, NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited (NGRL), at the NNPC Towers, Abuja.
The NNPC Greenfield Refinery Limited is a subsidiary of the Corporation set up in December 2020 with a mandate to oversee the establishment and operation of new refineries.
The GMD, who is also the Chairman of the NGRL Board, challenged members of the Board to focus on profitability in order to remain afloat and avoid liquidation.
“As a business, this is a big opportunity for us and this company’s balance sheet must change positively. Going forward, with the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), I can tell you that if you continue to post negative for three years, you are out. So, there is really no excuse”, Mallam Kyari stated.
He urged the Board and Management Team of the new company to set up a proper structure with the required skills, technology and financing to drive the company’s operations, adding that he was optimistic that the company would be able to achieve its mandate.
“Our company must grow and we can’t do well except we are able to process our production whether it is the liquid or gas. If we don’t monetise it then we have done nothing. This is really a new chapter and we are committed to making it work,” he said.
The NNPC helmsman stated that all the Corporation’s initiatives in the areas of new refineries, condensate refineries and equity acquisition in credible private refineries were geared towards ensuring energy security for the country.
In his remarks, the Alternate Chairman of the Board and Group Executive Director, Refinery and Petrochemicals, Engr. Mustapha Yakubu, declared that the operations of the company would be guided by the principles of cost effectiveness in line with the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), noting that profitability would be the key focus.
Speaking in similar vein, the Group General Manager, Greenfield Refineries and Project Division (GRPD) and Managing Director of the NGRL, Engr. Bege Talson, disclosed that the Division was working with third party investors to establish greenfield, modular and condensate refineries with a combined capacity of 250,000barrels per stream day (bpsd).

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