Daily Archives: February 13, 2012
by ROBERT HADDICK
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius created a tempest last week when he reported U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s prediction that Israel will attack Iran and its nuclear complex “in April, May or June.” Ignatius’s column was as startling as it was exasperating. When the sitting U.S. defense secretary — presumably privy to facts not generally available to the public — makes such a prediction, observers have good reasons to pay attention. On the other hand, the international community has been openly dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue for nearly a decade, with similar crescendos of anticipation having occurred before, all to no effect. Why would this time be different?
Further, an Israeli air campaign against Iran would seem like an amazingly reckless act. And an unnecessary one, too, since international sanctions against Iran’s banks and oil market are just now tightening dramatically.
Yet from Israel’s point of view, time really has run out. The sanctions have come too late. And when Israeli policymakers consider their advantages and all of the alternatives available, an air campaign, while both regrettable and risky, is not reckless.
1. Time pressure
In his column, Ignatius mentioned this spring as the likely deadline for an Israeli strike. Why so soon? After all, the Iranian program is still under the supervision of IAEA inspectors and Iran has not made any moves to “break out” toward the production of bomb-grade highly enriched uranium.
But as a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center discusses, Iran’s uranium enrichment effort continues to advance, even after the Stuxnet computer attack and the assassination of several of its nuclear scientists. According to the report, Iran seems to be successfully installing advanced, high-efficiency uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which foreshadows a significant increase in enrichment capacity and output in the near future. More ominously from Israel’s perspective, Iran is now installing centrifuge cascades into the Fordow mountain site near Qom, a bunker that is too deep for Israeli bombs to penetrate.
On-site IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring Iran’s nuclear fuel production and would report any diversions to military use. As Tehran undoubtedly assumes, such a “breakout” (tossing out the inspectors and quickly enriching to the bomb-grade level) would be a casus belli, with air strikes from Israel likely to soon follow. Israeli leaders may have concluded that Iran could break out with impunity after the Fordow site is operational and the enrichment effort has produced enough low-enriched uranium feedstock for several bombs. According to the Bipartisan Center report, Iran will be in this position later this year. According to the New York Times, U.S. and Israeli officials differ over their calculations of when Iran will have crossed into a “zone of immunity.” Given their more precarious position, it is understandable that Israeli policymakers are adopting a more conservative assessment.
2. Alternatives to military action now fall short
Israeli leaders undoubtedly understand that starting a war is risky. There should be convincing reasons for discarding the non-military alternatives.
The international sanctions effort against Iran’s banking system and oil industry are inflicting damage on the country’s economy and seem to be delivering political punishment to the regime. But they have not slowed the nuclear program, nor are they likely to have any effect on the timeline described above. And as long as Russia, China, India, and others continue to support Iran economically and politically, the sanctions regime is unlikely to be harsh enough to change Israel’s calculation of the risks, at least within a meaningful time frame.
Why can’t Israel’s secret but widely assumed nuclear arsenal deter an Iranian nuclear strike? Israel’s territory and population are so small that even one nuclear blast would be devastating. Israel would very much like to possess a survivable and stabilizing second-strike retaliatory capability. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union achieved this mainly with their ballistic missile submarine fleets, which were always on patrol and held each others’ cities at risk. Israel does not have large numbers of submarines or any nuclear-powered subs capable of long submerged patrols. Nor can it be confident that its policymakers or command-and-control systems would survive an Iranian nuclear first strike.
Even if Iran sought a nuclear weapons capability solely to establish its own defensive deterrent, the outcome would be gross instability in the region, very likely leading to one side or the other attempting a preemptive attack (the Iranian government denies that its nuclear program has a military purpose). Very short missile flight times, fragile early-warning and command systems, and no survivable second-strike forces would lead to a hair-trigger “use it or lose it” dynamic. An Israeli attack now on Iran’s nuclear program would be an attempt to prevent this situation from occurring.
3. The benefits of escalation
A strike on Iran’s nuclear complex would be at the outer boundary of the Israeli Air Force‘s capabilities. The important targets in Iran are near the maximum range of Israel’s fighter-bombers. The fact that Iraq’s airspace, on the direct line between Israel and Iran, is for now undefended is one more reason why Israel’s leaders would want to strike sooner rather than later. Israel’s small inventory of bunker-buster bombs may damage the underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, but they will likely have no effect on the Fordow mountain complex. Iran has undoubtedly dispersed and hidden many other nuclear facilities. An Israeli strike is thus likely to have only a limited and temporary effect on Iran’s nuclear program.
If so, why bother, especially when such a strike risks sparking a wider war? Israel’s leaders may actually prefer a wider escalating conflict, especially before Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state. Under this theory, Israel would take the first shot with a narrowly tailored attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Paradoxically, Israel’s leaders might then prefer Iranian retaliation, which would then give Israel the justification for broader strikes against Iran’s oil industry, power grid, and communication systems. Even better if Iran were to block the Strait of Hormuz or attack U.S. forces in the region, which would bring U.S. Central Command into the war and result in even more punishment for Iran. Israel’s leaders may believe that they enjoy “escalation dominance,” meaning that the more the war escalates, the worse the consequences for Iran compared to Israel. Israel raided Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007. Neither Saddam Hussein nor Bashar al-Assad opted to retaliate, very likely because both knew that Israel, with its air power, possessed escalation dominance. Israel’s leaders have good reason to assume that Iran’s leaders will reach the same conclusion.
What about the rockets possessed by Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s proxies north and south of Israel’s population centers? Israel’s leaders may believe that they are much better prepared to respond to these threats than they were in 2006, when the Israeli army struggled against Hezbollah. There is no guarantee that Hezbollah and Hamas will follow orders from Tehran to attack — they understand the punishment the reformed Israeli army would inflict. Hezbollah may now have an excellent reason to exercise caution. Should the Assad regime in Damascus collapse, Hezbollah would likely lose its most important protector and could soon find itself cut off and surrounded by enemies. It would thus be a particularly bad time for Hezbollah to invite an Israeli ground assault into southern Lebanon.
4. Managing the endgame
An Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear complex would probably not lead to the permanent collapse of the program. Iran could dig out the entrances to the Fordow site and establish new covert research and production facilities elsewhere, perhaps in bunkers dug under residential areas. Israel inflicted a major setback on Iraq’s program when it destroyed the unfinished Osirak reactor in 1981. Even so, Saddam Hussein covertly restarted the program. Israel should expect the same persistence from Iran.
So is there any favorable end-state for Israel? Israeli leaders may envision a long term war of attrition against Iran’s program, hoping to slow its progress to a crawl while waiting for regime change in Tehran. Through sporadic follow-up strikes against nuclear targets, Israel would attempt to demoralize the industry’s workforce, disrupt its operations, and greatly increase the costs of the program. Israeli leaders might hope that their attrition tactics, delivered through occasional air strikes, would bog down the nuclear program while international sanctions weaken the civilian economy and reduce political support for the regime. The stable and favorable outcome for Israel would be either Tehran’s abandonment of its nuclear program or an internal rebellion against the regime. Israel would be counting more on hope rather than a convincing set of actions to achieve these outcomes. But the imperative now for Israel is to halt the program, especially since no one else is under the same time pressure they are.
Israel should expect Tehran to mount a vigorous defense. Iran would attempt to acquire modern air defense systems from Russia or China. It would attempt to rally international support against Israeli aggression and get its international sanctions lifted and imposed on Israel instead. An Israeli assault on Iran would disrupt oil and financial markets with harmful consequences for the global economy. Israel would take the blame, with adverse political and economic consequences to follow.
But none of these consequences are likely enough to dissuade Israel from attacking. A nuclear capability is a red line that Israel has twice prevented its opponents from crossing. Iran won’t get across the line either. Just as happened in 1981 and 2007, Israel’s leaders have good reasons to conclude that its possession of escalation dominance will minimize the worst concerns about retaliation. Perhaps most importantly, Israel is under the greatest time pressure, which is why it will have to go it alone and start what will be a long and nerve-wracking war.
- At the Pentagon and in Israel, Plans Show the Difficulties of An Iran Strike (newsworldwide.wordpress.com)
- Panetta believes Israel may strike Iran this spring (telegraph.co.uk)
- Panetta believes Israel may strike Iran this spring: reports – Reuters (reuters.com)
To be processed by ION’s GX Technology data processing group, this new data adds to the approximately 17,600 kilometers of data the company acquired in the region in 2009 and brings the total number of kilometers in the company’s BrasilSPAN portfolio to over 50,000.
Recent major discoveries in West Africa’s Ghana and Ivory Coast, which are geologically similar to Brazil’s Equatorial Margin basins, have increased interest among oil & gas companies in the conjugate margin in northern Brazil. ION’s Greater BrasilSPAN provides E&P companies with a better understanding of the orientation of the transform and growth faults and the deposition environment of the key basins from Foz do Amazonas to Potiguar.
Ken Williamson, Senior Vice President of ION’s GeoVentures group, commented, “Our BrasilSPAN program provides E&P companies with a regional depth-imaged framework to better understand the hydrocarbon potential offshore Brazil. But the dataset is also of great value to E&P operators in Africa, as it reveals striking similarities in the structural framework of the petroleum systems on both sides of the Atlantic Margin.”
The second phase of ION’s Greater BrasilSPAN program will be available in the third quarter of 2012, in anticipation of the 11th Brazilian licensing round expected to be announced in early 2012.
- Spectrum Releases Detailed Datasets for Licensing Round Offshore Iceland
- ION Collects 8700 km of Regional Seismic Data Offshore Mozambique, Tanzania
- USA: ION Expands ArcticSPAN Regional Seismic Program
- TGS, Dolphin Geophysical Sign Northwest Africa Seismic Deal
- Spectrum to Start Seismic Survey Offshore Brazil
- Chevron Throws the Brakes on Current and Future Drilling Offshore Brazil (mb50.wordpress.com)
- PGS to Start Seismic Survey at Corentyne Licence, Offshore Guyana (mb50.wordpress.com)
- ION Completes Seismic Data Acquisition in the Marcellus Shale (prnewswire.com)
- Polarcus Nadia Set for West Africa Work (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Petrobras Announces New Discovery in Carioca Area, Offshore Brazil (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Fugro Completes Zeus 3D Seismic Survey, Offshore Australia (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Brazil: Petrobras Agrees Contracts for 26 Drilling Rigs (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Polarcus Acquires 3D Seismic Data Offshore Ivory Coast (mb50.wordpress.com)
CGX Energy Inc. has commenced with drilling operations at the Eagle-1 well located on the Corentyne Petroleum Prospecting License (“PPL”) offshore Guyana.
The Eagle-1 well will be drilled to a depth of 4,250 metres to test the Eocene and Maastrichtian geologic zones. The well is being drilled by the Ocean Saratoga semi-submersible drilling rig owned by a subsidiary of Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc. DO +0.89% , a leading drilling contractor with over 40 years of global drilling experience. Drilling is expected to take approximately 60 days.
Steve Hermeston, President and CEO commented, “Today marks a significant milestone in the history of CGX. We are returning to drill the Eagle prospect that was halted in June 2000 due to overlapping maritime border claims between Guyana and Suriname. Renewed exploration follows over seven years of dedication and co-operation between the Government of Guyana and CGX in resolving the Maritime Boundary between Guyana and Suriname peacefully and finally through the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) process. Following the resolution of the maritime border, CGX has shot two-3D seismic surveys, creating a portfolio of prospects on the Corentyne PPL, Eagle-1 being the first well to be drilled to test the original Eocene prospect, plus a deeper Maastrichtian prospect, both of which are stratigraphic tests. The current location will significantly benefit from the 3D acquired in conjunction with advances in better understanding the optimal position to test reservoirs deposited in deep water environments.”
CGX Energy is a Canadian-based oil and gas exploration company focused on the exploration of oil in the Guyana-Suriname Basin, an area that is ranked second in the world for oil and gas prospectivity by the United States Geological Service. CGX is managed by a team of experienced oil and gas and finance professionals from Guyana, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
- Ocean Saratoga Rig to Drill CGX’s Eagle Well, Offshore Guyana
- PGS to Start Seismic Survey at Corentyne Licence, Offshore Guyana
- CGX Collects Funds for Two Wells Offshore Guyana
- Repsol Starts Drilling at Jaguar-1, Offshore Guyana
- Coastal Strikes Oil at Bua Ban North B Well, Offshore Thailand
- PGS to Start Seismic Survey at Corentyne Licence, Offshore Guyana (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Sagres Prepares for Drilling Offshore Jamaica (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Atwood Beacon to Drill Offshore Israel (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Hyperdynamics Halts Drilling Offshore Guinea (mb50.wordpress.com)
McDermott Australia (McDermott) has awarded Heerema Marine Contractors Australia Pty Ltd (HMC) a contract to transport and install infield flowlines, subsea structures and moorings for the INPEX Ichthys LNG Project.
McDermott Australia has been appointed the main contractor for the subsea umbilical, riser, flowline (SURF) project by INPEX. McDermott will work with HMC on the complex offshore installation campaign. HMC will carry out the transportation and installation of a portion of the offshore scope, utilizing the heavy lift, J-Lay and Reel-Lay capability of Heerema’s new-build vessel Aegir.
Scope of work
HMC’s scope of work includes the transportation and installation of flowlines, production flowlines, integrated pipeline structures, large subsea structures, a subsea riser support structure, and moorings for future FPSO and CPF facilities.
All pipeline production welding, both onshore and offshore, will be carried out by HMC’s subsidiary Pipeline Technique Ltd.
Aegir’s cutting-edge technology
The project logistics are of an unprecedented scale in HMC’s subsea track record. It involves lowering over 100,000 tonnes of project materials to the seabed in water depths up to 275 meters.
HMC’s Executive Vice President Commercial & Technology Steve Preston says: “This is a really exciting opportunity for us, not only because of the enormous scope of the project, but also because we will be able to demonstrate the groundbreaking capabilities of our new vessel Aegir. We will be able to use its heavy lift, J-Lay and Reel-Lay capabilities all in one project.”
Ichthys LNG Project
The Ichthys LNG Project is a joint venture between INPEX (76%, the Operator) and Total (24%). Gas from the Ichthys Field, in the Browse Basin approximately 200 kilometers offshore Western Australia, will undergo preliminary processing offshore to remove water and extract condensate. The gas will then be exported to onshore processing facilities in Darwin via an 889-kilometer subsea pipeline. The Ichthys LNG Project is expected to produce 8.4 million tonnes of LNG and 1.6 million tonnes of LPG per annum, along with approximately 100,000 barrels of condensate per day at peak.
About Heerema Marine Contractors
Heerema Marine Contractors is a world-leading marine contractor for the oil and gas industry. HMC transports, installs, and removes all types of offshore facilities and operates three of the four largest crane vessels in the world. HMC is a fully-owned subsidiary of the Heerema Group.
- Australia: McDermott Bags USD 2 Billion Ichthys Subsea Contract
- Australia: KBR JV Signs 15 bln Ichthys EPC Contract
- Australia: SBM Offshore to Supply Turret and Mooring System for Ichthys Project
- Australia: Clough DORIS Gets LOI for Ichthys LNG
- Australia: Saipem Bags USD 1.8 Billion E&C Offshore Contracts
- Ichthys: The Largest Subsea Gig for McDermott (Australia) (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Australia: Saipem Lands Ichthys LNG Work (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Australia: All Ichthys Approvals on Track, INPEX Says (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Deep-Water Lifting: A Challenge for the Industry (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Australia: Ichthys Cost to Exceed USD 30 Billion, Total CEO Says (mb50.wordpress.com)
The energy industry has the appearance that it is about to undergo a major shift in pricing structures again. We saw it lately with the spread between crude and NG blowing out. We have seen signs of it happening in Brent and WTI before, and I expect we will see new signs of it again.
To be clear, we could see extremely expensive Brent oil, as international supply fears increase with tension in Iran. This would be happening while the price of WTI, a lighter sweeter standard, crashes in US terms do to its own over supply and lack of demand issues.
This would all be happening under a backdrop of world markets bidding for refined products from a US export happy refining complex. This would lead to US gasoline prices hitting all-time highs, while refinery complexes in the US Midwest would have the highest profit margins in their history.
The US Midwest is growing its own domestic sources of oil, while its own capacity to ship the oil out is limited. This causes a bottle neck in exports in the region. This is causing the price locally to crash.
The planned refinery work in the Midwest has lowered the take-off demand for Bakken oil. This is happening inside of a window of time while the Bakken production sets all new production records every month.
This is causing the price of oil in the Midwest to crash in localized markets, as the take-off capacity does not equal the supply of new barrels. The region is buried in supply, all of which is now seeking a path to Houston refining complex.
The price difference of an equivalent grade of oil in Bakken Terminals & Louisiana terminals is now $40. This imbalance in like qualities will generate a short term arbitrage trucking bonanza, as the profit per trip approaches silly levels.
I expect to hear about a fleet of white trucks driving loads of crude oil from the Midwest to the refining complexes with accessible pipelines capacities. You don’t have to drive it all the way there, to deliver it.
I wish I had a fleet of modern fluid haulers right now. There is more oil supply in the Bakken then local demand, and that won’t change much when the refinery’s turn around. The Bakken supply is still growing every month, and will for a while.
The growth in rail take off capacity will not keep up with the growth in new oil production in the near to intermediate term. This will lead to price differentials that will last longer than people expect. There is always a profit to be made when these events happen. It will be interesting to see who ends up owning those fleets of white trucks.
Just like the old gold rush stories of stores making more then people digging for gold. There just might be more money made in shipping the oil by truck, then there is in producing it, or refining it. As they say, this could get interesting in the near term.
Read more: BI
- Conoco’s Brent Control (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Brent WTI Back To $20 – Some Thoughts On What’s Next From Goldman (zerohedge.com)
- Seaway Pipeline gets turned around; oil markets react quickly (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Seaway pipeline creates contango with oil glut (mb50.wordpress.com)
- JP Morgan Hikes 2012 Crude Price Target To $110 On Seaway Reversal (zerohedge.com)
- InvestmentOptions.Net Releases Response to President Obama’s Decision to Reject Keystone Pipeline (prweb.com)