Contributed by Samuel Furfari © 2022
Professor Emeritus of Energy Geopolitics
President of the European Society of Engineers and Industrialists
Former Senior official at DG Energy of the European Commission
English translation of the original French article published on Atlantico. English version published with permission of the author.
There is no need for OPEC or Russia to create energy problems to reinforce their hegemony. The G7 does it very well.
In October 1973, on the occasion of the Yom Kippur War, the Arab countries of OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries), following Colonel Gaddafi’s lead, sharply increased the price of their oil and, above all, introduced an embargo on deliveries to countries friendly to Israel. In February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini tightened the oil shock. The bruised OECD discovered the harsh reality of its energy dependence [i] .
Prior to this crisis, interest in energy was driven by engineers, big business and a few diplomats; painfully, the population discovered that it was in dire need of energy, the major imperative of the modern world, even more pressing today. Without energy, we would be back to hard work, welfare for the rich only, difficulty of travel, poor hygiene, short life expectancy and lack of leisure and media.
The Greeks had laid the foundations of science; Galileo, Newton and their emulators formalised it and gave it its letters of nobility, but their children and grandchildren continued to live like them, in a world of precariousness where only the “haves” who exploited servitudes had a minimum of comfort. Then fossil fuels came along and everything changed, as Richard Rhodes shows so well in his aptly named book ‘Energy – A human history’. The industrial revolution became possible, and it created the world we know. Everything – everything! – that you touch and see as you read this has been produced and transported by cheap and abundant fossil fuel. Nothing has escaped this.
The West caused the first oil shock
Why were the Gaddafis, Khomeinis and others able to bring us to our knees for a few years? Because we gave them a stick to beat us with. They did not create the Club of Rome! They were not the ones who ran models that predicted the end of oil by 2000! They are not the ones who indoctrinated a whole generation with statements like “we can’t go on like this, we won’t have enough resources”. It was the leaders and academics of the most influential OECD countries – which today form the G7 – who said that there would be no more oil. On the contrary, the oil-producing countries knew full well how abundant, cheap, and secure their reserves were. They thought that since the OECD believed in the end of oil, they could dominate the West by muzzling it through energy. This triggered an inflation that took decades to curb. The developing countries, which were emerging from colonialism and trying to industrialise their countries, were heavily afflicted by this galloping inflation to the point where they could not pay interest on interest. This put an end to their legitimate dream of industrialisation.
Successful responses to oil shocks
Fortunately, the OECD countries responded and were able to free themselves from geopolitical bondage, but not from inflation. How was this ‘oil crisis’ resolved? The EU immediately created the Oil and Gas Demonstration Programme, which funded the oil service companies – those developing the technologies used by oil companies – which enabled the development of oil and natural gas production in the North Sea. The other solution was the development of nuclear power. Decided by the founders of the EU in the 1950s, it came to maturity and was deployed right at the time of the crisis. In 1973, 31.9% of the electricity produced in the then EU came from oil products and nuclear energy (in its early days only 7.5%). In 1985, I wrote in a book published by my institution that these figures in 1983 were 13.1% and 27.5% respectively [ii] . The consequence of these measures was the ‘oil counter-shock’ with a barrel price of only $15/bbl in 1986. Another weapon was also created, discussed below. OPEC and Iran were forced to fall in line.
As can be seen, the right answers were to produce more energy, not less. Energy saving has contributed and will contribute, but let’s be serious: the EU used 52 exajoules in 1973 and 55 exajoules ten years later, proof that we have not consumed less.
The G7 creates a new debacle
But now the G7 – led by the US and the EU – is leading us into a new energy debacle. We are fortunate that OPEC and Russia are not playing the geopolitical card that they have in their hands. Imagine what a new oil embargo would do! It would be far more painful, because we are far more dependent on energy for our daily lives than we were four decades ago: today (before Covid), the world needs 97 million barrels of oil per day (Mb/d) whereas in 1979 it was only 59 Mb/d.
The same mistakes lead to the same consequences. Today, the actors are no longer called the Club of Rome, but the IPCC; they are no longer called Gaddafi, but Jo Biden, not Khomeini, but Franz Timmermans. The UN and EU leaders have convinced almost the entire population – and especially the youth – that we are heading for disaster if we do not stop using fossil fuels, which have improved our way of life like no other in human history. I can already hear the cries of those who are offended and who repeat, as in 1973/1979, “we can’t go on like this…”.
But not everyone is the G7
Except that this time there is a big difference that will strongly penalise those who prophesy the coming catastrophe. As twenty-six successive COPs have shown, developing countries don’t care about the IPCC studies, the Democratic leaders in the US, the establishment in Brussels and Strasbourg, or even the government in Berlin.
China used to consume 1 MB/d during the oil shocks; it now consumes 14 Mb/d. This changes everything, because we know that China will continue to grow, regardless of its CO₂ emissions. In 1973, China accounted for only 6% of global emissions; today, it is by far the largest emitter with 31%. Since only 400 million Chinese live in conditions similar to those of the G7 citizens, the only way to bring the other billion Chinese up to the same level is to increase fossil and nuclear energy consumption dramatically. Xi Jinping’s China is organising itself so that Iran will be a main supplier of hydrocarbons without neglecting all the potential for importing gas and oil from Africa and Central Asia [iii] , a potential that it has patiently built up. As for nuclear energy, which is not well liked in Brussels and Berlin, China is booming in conventional (Gen-II, Gen-III) and non-conventional (Gen-IV) technologies.
The same could be said for India and indeed for all other non-OECD countries. Perhaps these figures will convince the sceptics: since 1992, when the UN preached that CO₂ emissions should be reduced, global emissions have risen by 58% and, incidentally, Vietnam’s by 1100%.
So, to think that the world will abandon fossil fuels and nuclear energy is disarmingly naive. President Macron would do well to give an injunction to “his” company Engie, which wants to abandon nuclear power plants in Belgium, because France will have trouble selling plants if “his” company does not promote nuclear power [iv] .
And that’s not all. To implement their suicidal policy, most G7 members – primarily the EU and the US – are self-censoring their hydrocarbon production. We will take just two examples: the US and Italy.
Biden chiefly responsible for soaring energy prices
Joe Biden announced during his election campaign that he would destroy the US oil industry. He is delivering on that promise with a costly plan to push competing, uneconomic, solutions. Panicked by the rising oil prices he has created by castigating the oil industry, he has the audacity to call on OPEC and Russia to increase production in order to lower gasoline prices in the US.
He is also manipulating the rules of the IEA (International Energy Agency), an agency created by the OECD in response to OPEC’s attempt at geopolitical control. Recall, as we announced at the beginning of this article, that in response to the physical shortages of 1973/1979, this institution created the obligation for its member states to hold 90 days of reserves of crude oil or petroleum products that can only be used by a unanimous decision of the members and only in the event of a physical disruption of supply. This balanced strategy has forced OPEC countries to never again use the weapon of ‘shutting off the tap’. In violation of IEA rules, Joe Biden single-handedly took the initiative to release reserves because of a price increase without a supply disruption. No one reacted to denounce a ‘politically correct’ president’s disregard for a practice that dates back almost half a century.
Moreover, Biden has surrounded himself with people who hate oil and natural gas. For example, Saule Omarova, nominated for the position of US banking regulator, has openly stated that ‘we want [oil and gas companies] to go bankrupt’ and that ‘the way we get rid of these carbon financiers is to deprive them of their source of capital’ [v] (video here). All of this has negative consequences for production and exploration. In Texas, oil companies are struggling to finance new drilling[vi], as banks fear they will not get their loans back given the Biden Administration’s policy of abandoning oil and gas. The United States, which thanks to the know-how of its oilmen had become the world’s leading producer of oil and gas from shales, is now suddenly stopped in its tracks by the indirect consequences of the IPCC report and the Paris Agreement.
This assault on the symbol of US success is likely to have a major impact on the upcoming November 8, 2022, congressional elections, which will renew one third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives.
The EU has indoctrinated Italy
In the EU, some G7 countries have banned even hydrocarbon exploration. The example of Italy is the most implausible. With the potential for oil and natural gas in the Adriatic, Italy could be an energy powerhouse. The Italian oil federation has carried out studies [vii] to verify the presence of hydrocarbons even where it was unthinkable: the basin between Sardinia and Tuscany, the Tyrrhenian Sea, Campania, Calabria, Molise and Veneto. Italy has resources that are still unknown. Not far away, Egypt with its Zohr field (discovered by the Italian company ENI), and Israel, with its Leviathan basin, have become producers in the Mediterranean Sea. If Italy decided to do the same in its exclusive economic zone, it would become a major oil and gas producer.
Not only is exploration prohibited in Italy, but the country is depriving itself of everything that could be derived from an industrial point of view. Instead, it is financing expensive intermittent and variable energy sources that hardly reduce its CO₂ emissions since they need a controllable backup using fossil fuels. ENI, which is one of the most competent companies in the world in terms of prospecting, thanks to its know-how and its computing centre in San Donato Milanese, is getting involved in solar projects in Greece by entering the capital of a German financial company [viii].
The leader of this improbable folding is the European Commission. Article 194.2 does not allow it to impose an energy choice on Member States, but through state aid [ix] and taxonomy, it de facto imposes its ideological choice: stop fossil fuels, limit nuclear and put and withdraw the market economy in the energy field. Now the ideology is total. In a few years, state sovietism has been imposed by Brussels/Strasbourg. In my 36 years serving as an official in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy, I have never experienced this.
Just as the Americans blame Joe Biden for the increase in petrol prices, the other citizens in the G7 countries will learn the hard way that achieving net-zero per cent fossil fuel use is a great utopia, as was shown in a recent study published in The European Physical Journal Plus [x]. The bill will be very high. Since the EU has been following the ukases of the current Gaddafis and Khomeinys, the renewables it has been pushing – wind and solar photovoltaics – spending over a trillion euros [xi] since 2000 alone have only replaced 2.9% of fossil fuels [xii]. In almost half a century, less than three per cent! Only demagogues can imagine achieving 100% in 28 years.
The precautionary principle, climate policy and big finance have killed the market
When Ronald Reagan became President of the United States in November 1980 – in the midst of the energy crisis – experts gave him a series of tips and points of attention, including this one that concerns us more than ever: « ‘The battle between government regulation and the private market is nowhere more apparent than in energy, where the market has a decisive comparative advantage. Governmental intrusion into energy production and use provides a glaring example of how regulation costs us all dearly » [xiii]. The G7 is doing exactly the opposite with total control of energy policy, which if not for the subsidies – our taxes – would collapse immediately.
Like the frog that allows itself to be boiled because the temperature of the water is slowly rising, we are now discovering the evils of policies that once appeared sympathetic but are now brutal.
In 2007, the economist Henri Lepage warned that “judges will be asked to sanction you by deciding a posteriori what you should have done (or not done) based on a set of information that was not available at the time you had to make the decision. We are entering a world that must be described as delusional” [xiv]. Here we are. The major fossil fuel companies are being attacked by climate activists in the courts, and even by some of their shareholders. We will only take the example of Shell, which was forced by a Dutch judge to reduce its co2dge’sCO 2 emissions by 45% between 2019 and 2030 because Friends of the Earth and six other NGOs filed a complaint. In the judge’s view, Shell is guilty of having contributed to destabilising the climate for years. Yet, as we have just seen, China is responsible for a third of global CO₂ 2 emissions. Shell, an Anglo-Dutch company, has responded very well by moving its headquarters to the UK, even though it is very politically correct place. But since Boris Johnson is as much of an environmentalist as the Dutch judge, the major company founded in 1907 would do better to take refuge in Moscow.
These attacks on business that embarrassed OECD countries in the 1980s do not come from OPEC, Iran or Russia, but from within it is the destructive matrix. This destruction of value takes place with the complicity of an increasingly powerful financial world, as the example of Black Rock shows. This asset management giant, which manages some 10 trillion dollars, or 10% of world GDP in 2020, has chosen to impose measures to decarbonise the economy. It has managed to impose three directors on ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. Toshiba, another industrial giant, changed its board for similar reasons.
Threats are growing everywhere; even in Texas, where shale oil and gas drillers are now having trouble getting bank loans. It is clear that if the damage prepared by Biden, his climate chief – John Kerry – and activist politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, happens even in the most oil-rich state in the US, Iran has a long way to go. Indeed, the world can do without USA hydrocarbons, but not hydrocarbons even if it means paying more for them and thus enriching America’s adversaries. And since the regime installed by Khomeini in 1979 has not changed and still wants the destruction of Israel, do Washington and Brussels/Strasbourg realise that their green indoctrination could cause a disaster in a few years? This ruin would be far sure, early and worse than the one envisaged by the IPCC models.
These climate ideologues have not understood that penalising, or even eliminating, the six G7 oil and gas giants (ExxonMobil and Chevron from the US, Shell, BP, ENI and TotalEnergies from the EU) is not going to make any difference to the climate or stop the demand for hydrocarbons. They are not the ones creating the demand, but our modern life, as we said at the beginning of this text. Moreover, these “clay-footed giants” account for only 15% of global oil production [xv]. Their destruction by the green international of politicians, financiers and environmental NGOs will only reinforce the hegemony of those who produce 85% and who could soon be pumping 100%, while creating stranded assets in the OECD.
One exception is Australia, a giant in coal, oil, natural gas and uranium. Its Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had even decided not to go to Glasgow for COP26, but Queen Elizabeth forced him to. Given the flop of this COP, the facts proved the Prime Minister right, a head of state who, unlike his G7 colleagues, intends to safeguard his country’s economy. Did he not tell Canberra Parliament that Australia will produce all the coal the world needs?
China, Russia and Iran, the beneficiaries of the G7 energy debacle
This energy debacle of ours – which I don’t call a crisis, because there is no disruption of supply like in 1973/1979 – is indeed the fault of G7 leaders. China (the world’s largest energy consumer), Russia (the world’s largest gas reserves) and Iran (10% of the world’s oil reserves and the second-largest gas reserves) are happy about this. These three adversaries of the United States will continue to produce and, above all, consume what provides them with abundant and cheap energy, thus giving them an economic development advantage over the EU. The EU – a useful idiot – will suffer the consequences of this debacle far more than the US.
Ali Al-Naimi, at a meeting in Washington in 2002 when he was Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, said, “Oil is not a tank. Oil is not an F-16. Oil is not a missile. It will not be used as a weapon. It is a source of prosperity” [xvi]. It is a pity that the G7 did not understand this, while the geopolitics of energy discredits their environmentalism. They have preferred to sink into green ideology instead of pursuing, as in the past, the prosperity that can only exist if there is abundant and cheap energy.
The G7 leaders are heading irrevocably towards geopolitical energy suicide. Their climate arrogance leads them to believe in model fears, to deny the reality of the root causes of rising energy prices – including in particular the continued penalisation of fossil fuels and nuclear energy and the reckless promotion of renewables – and to attack Putin at a time when Gazprom is meeting its contractual obligations to deliver gas. Gas exploration is forbidden, but Russia is required to deliver more gas to fill our gas stocks. It’s like a dream!
The blindness of Brussels/Strasbourg will unfortunately lead to an increase in the rejection of the EU, as the current French election campaign is already showing, not to mention the astonishment of the population and policy-makers in the Central and Eastern European countries. What a mess! We were well on our way.
[i] Samuele Furfari, Le monde et l’énergie, Technip, 2007, Page 45
[ii] Samuel Furfari, General strategy for energy in the European Community, in G.E. Beghi, Synthetic Fuels, Reidel Pub. Comp. 1985
[iii] Tom Miller, Asie centrale : la perte de l’Amérique est le gain de la Chine, Revue Conflits, 31 décembre 2021, https://www.revueconflits.com/asie-centrale-la-perte-de-lamerique-est-le-gain-de-la-chine/
[iv] Marc Deffrennes et Samuel Furfari, La France peut-elle ignorer l’impact de la sortie du nucléaire en Belgique ?, La Tribune, 28 décembre 2021
[vi] World Oil, Shale drillers face record cost pressures as banks shun the sector, 12/29/2021, https://www.worldoil.com/news/2021/12/29/shale-drillers-face-record-cost-pressures-as-banks-shun-the-sector
[vii] Michele Marsiglia, Tempi, 19/6/2014, https://www.tempi.it/petrolio-adriatico-italia-sarebbe-potenza-energetica-ma-abbiamo-preferito-non-produrre/
[viii] ENI, Communiqué de presse du 12 janvier 2022, https://www.eni.com/it-IT/media/comunicati-stampa/2022/01/eni-acquisisce-solar-konzept-greece-entra-fotovoltaico-grecia.html
[ix] European Commission, Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy 2022, C(2021) 9817 final21.12.2021
[x] Furfari, S., Mund, E. Is the European green deal achievable? Eur. Phys. J. Plus 136, 1101 (2021), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1140%2Fepjp%2Fs13360-021-02075-7
[xi] Samuel Furfari, Le masochisme énergétique de l’Europ, Les Echos, 22/12/2021 https://www.lesechos.fr/idees-debats/cercle/opinion-le-masochisme-energetique-de-leurope-1374341
[xii] Ernest Mund et Samuel Furfari, Énergies renouvelables dans l’UE : de la perception aux réalités, 22/11/2020, https://www.connaissancedesenergies.org/tribune-actualite-energies/energies-renouvelables-dans-lue-de-la-perception-aux-realites
[xiii] Wall Street Journal, Advice for a New President, 16 Novembre 1980, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204880404577225870253766212, republié le 25 mai 2012
[xiv] Henri Lepage, Le principe de précaution : la fin du règne du droit, Objectif Liberté, 2007, https://www.objectifliberte.fr/ih-precaution-principle-fin-regne-droit.html
[xv] Dominique Finon, Les compagnies pétrolières face à la coercision climatique, La revue de l’énergie, n° 658, septembre-octobre 2021, page 32
[xvi] Samuele Furfari, Le monde et l’énergie. 1. Les clefs pour comprendre, Technip, 2007, page 252
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