Over a Barrel

Feeding America’s immoderate appetite for oil comes with a high cost—and a measure of peril.

The United States consumes a full quarter of the world’s daily oil production, or nearly 20 million barrels per day (mbd). No other single nation on the planet approaches this level of consumption.

American roads are increasingly filled with large passenger vehicles, many of which spend most of their road time hauling only one or two passengers. There are 180 million Americans currently old enough to drive a car, while there are 200 million cars. That is more than one car for every man, woman and teenager legally eligible to drive—a statistic that people in most nations would consider absurd (www.abcnews.com).

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, domestic oil production (including crude oil and petroleum products) has steadily decreased since 1970 to where it is about 9 mbd—less than half of consumption. Further exacerbating the situation is consumer demand, which is expected to expand from 19.7 mbd to 26.7 mbd by 2020—a 35 percent increase. The growing gap between domestic production and demand must be filled by foreign oil imports—which leaves the American superpower with a glaring vulnerability.

In 2001, the Bush administration developed the National Energy Policy. The policy said this about the situation: “U.S. dependence on oil imports is a serious long-term challenge. The economic security of our nation and our trading partners will remain closely tied to global oil market developments.” The situation is not only a challenge but a dangerous threat to national security. How does the U.S. plan to deal with this massive risk?

The Need for Imported Oil

The Bush energy policy, in its own words, “seeks to lessen the impact on Americans of energy price volatility and supply uncertainty.” The document stated the need to try to increase domestic production (though it expects that it cannot raise production more than 2 mbd), reduce consumption, utilize improvements in production and exploration technology, and—most crucially—strengthen trade alliances with oil-producing nations. “Energy security must be a priority of U.S. trade and foreign policy,” it says. “We must look beyond our borders and restore America’s credibility with overseas suppliers. In addition, we must build strong relationships with energy-producing nations in our own hemisphere, improving the outlook for trade, investment and reliable supplies” (ibid.).

Currently, the Persian Gulf accounts for 2.3 mbd, about 22 percent of U.S. net oil imports. Growing instability in the Gulf is forcing the U.S. to work feverishly to diversify its imports and find a strategic hedge against its Persian Gulf oil use.

One oil source that appears promising is Africa.

Within the June report “Bottom of the Barrel: Africa’s Oil Boom and the Poor,” Ian Gary of Catholic Relief Services stated, “West Africa’s growth potential is considered to be greater than that of Russia, the Caspian or South America. The U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (eia) conservatively calculates that the region will be producing 9 million barrels a day by 2030.” The eia further estimates that sub-Saharan Africa has about 7 percent of proven world reserves. And www.forbes.com reported that some have even estimated the Gulf of Guinea alone has upward of 24 billion barrels in reserve (March 10).

Already, American oil giants are infiltrating the region. In 2002, ChevronTexaco announced that it had invested $5 billion in the previous five years and would pump another $20 billion into the region by 2007. ExxonMobil claims it will spend $25 billion across Africa in the next 10 years. West Africa currently supplies about 15 percent of U.S. imports, and the U.S. National Intelligence Council expects that West African oil will represent 25 percent of U.S. imports by 2015—surpassing Persian Gulf imports (Olympian, Sept. 13, 2002).

In recognition of the critical need for secure oil supplies, for nearly two years the U.S. government has been making overtures in the region, seeking to establish military bases in various West African countries. In August last year, the Olympian reported an announcement by Sao Tome President Fradique de Menezes that an agreement had been forged with the U.S. for it to put a naval base on the Gulf of Guinea island. The waters surrounding Sao Tome are said to hold 4 million barrels of oil. Though this naval base has not yet eventuated, the U.S. is forging ahead with its strategy. Stratfor reported on September 17 that “U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has received a draft of plans for the establishment of military bases in West Africa. U.S. military officials reportedly have reached air basing deals with several states in the region, including Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.” These basing moves would give the U.S. a powerful presence in the area.

Of course, many Africans see such actions as American imperialism—an attitude that mirrors the feeling of many all over the globe.

Although these moves are among the most recent U.S. initiatives to hedge against its heavy dependence on Gulf oil, they are by no means the most significant. U.S. involvement in oil exploration, production and distribution spans the globe, covering all continents. In recent years, the most high-profile involvement has been centered in Eurasia, particularly the Caucuses, Central Asia and the Pacific. The importance of Latin America’s oil fields in terms of their proximity to the U.S. also is a serious consideration in America’s overall strategy to secure alternative sources of energy.

Despite these efforts to implement U.S. national strategic policy through securing investment, drilling and long-term initiatives, America will not contain the vulnerability of its vital need for foreign oil. In fact, Bible prophecy indicates that overseas development of these resources will not be the real problem. The real problem will be delivering them to the U.S. marketplace.

Crucial Gateways

The United States and Britain comprise modern-day biblical Israel, which is described as being besieged in the end time by foreign nations through their control of sea gates. “And he [foreigners] shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee” (Deut. 28:52; see also v. 57). This besieging of the U.S. and Britain will include a blockade on their trade traffic as well as the collapse of their financial systems—the “high and fenced walls.”

For the U.S., once oil has been acquired, it must be delivered via shipping lanes. All major shipping lanes either transit through or terminate near major choke points—sea gates. A close analysis of global trade routes reveals a growing danger to U.S. trade traffic. The U.S. is facing three opponents in this arena: China, the Islamic powers and the EU.

China, through the front company of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., controls the Panama Canal and also one of the world’s largest container ports—Freeport, Bahamas. Both of these gateways, particularly Freeport, are critical for the import of oil to the U.S. Though the U.S. has 57 coastal oil terminals, the greatest concentration of refineries, terminals and storage facilities, including the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, is in the Gulf of Mexico region, from East Texas to Louisiana. This means that much of the oil must pass through the Caribbean region—a route now significantly controlled by China. In addition, China is establishing a huge deep-water port in Gwadar, Pakistan, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

Islamic governments presently control access to Persian Gulf oil resources through the gulfs of Oman and Aden and the Suez Canal. Turkey, another Islamic state, stands at the crossroads of the Dardanelles, pathway of oil from Eurasia. The southern gateways of Jakarta and the Straits of Malacca, through which shipments from Pacific and Asian oil fields must be transported, are bordered by Islamic nations.

By May next year, the European Union will control the crucial northern gates of the Mediterranean and the North Sea, through which oil from Russia, the Caucasus and Eurasia passes.

Looking at which nations have control over strategic gateways, we can see that the U.S. could find itself in a very vulnerable position if certain nations or groups of nations turned hostile. What if, for instance, China and Europe were to cooperate strategically to limit traffic through the gateways they control?

Some may argue, and the National Energy Policy agrees, that should trade routes from the Middle East, Eurasia, Africa and the Pacific be blocked, the U.S. could turn to resources in the Western Hemisphere, namely in Latin America. However, the EU has been erecting a powerful hedge throughout all of Latin America, including in America’s closest neighbor, Mexico (for details, read “Recolonizing Latin America?” in the July Trumpet; you can find it at www.thetrumpet.com).

Trade Routes in the Future

The EU has not yet consolidated control over strategic sea gates; yet, in alignment with Bible prophecy, it is positioning itself to do so in the future. In recent years, Europe has been laying the groundwork for strong trade relations and influence in various strategic areas of the world.

In a European Commission press release in 2000 concerning the signing of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and its 77 member nations of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific states, the following was written: “[T]his agreement will shape a significant part of the European Union’s dealings with the rest of the world. It also reflects the Union’s reach both as the leading international trading partner and the world’s main provider of official development assistance, with a European Development Fund of 13.5 billion euros for the initial five-year period” (emphasis mine throughout).

The press release emphasized the importance to Europe of the Caribbean region—an area with sea gates critical to the U.S. “In the Caribbean region, Europe remains a necessary partner and a useful counterweight to powerful neighbors” (June 21, 2000).

The EU has a 13.5 billion euro “carrot” for 77 nations in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Why? It wishes to serve as a “counterweight” to “powerful neighbors”—a clear reference to the United States. What benefits will small Pacific islands, Caribbean islands and nations in Africa afford the EU? Control over trade routes and vital strategic sea gates!—not to mention economically vital resources (for example, the EU itself is becoming increasingly entrenched in oil-rich Russia, Eurasia and West Africa).

Despite all the efforts of the U.S. to procure and secure foreign oil—so vital to maintaining America’s fragile economy in the long term—Bible prophecy is clear: Unless the U.S, and the other nations comprising biblical Israel, repent and turn to God, failure is assured on all fronts. The Bible prophesies that it will be a powerful European bloc that will attain control of world trade—though only for a relatively short time (Rev. 18:17-19).

However, regardless of the future path of the U.S. as a whole, hope is assured for individuals willing to correct within their own lives the same mistakes that are bringing the U.S. to this point.