Two Pre-Season Storms Eyed in Atlantic, Pacific oceans, Could Cause Damages to Gas, Oil Projects in Gulf of Mexico
Storms that enter the Gulf of Mexico could damage and halt both operations and production of natural gas and oil development projects in the area. Just this March, according to a one-year progress report on the Obama administration’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Policy, it said that the Gulf of Mexico is safely back to strong production after the much celebrated 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, otherwise known as the BP oil disaster or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Of the two pre-season storms spotted by the National Hurricane Center, the stronger one was found in the Pacific about 550 miles or 885 kilometers south-southwest of Acapulco, Mexico. In a weather bulletin, the center said it has a 50 per cent chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next day or two.
The one in the Atlantic, meanwhile, was 460 miles west-southwest of the Azores, with a 20 per cent probability of becoming a sub-tropical storm in the next two days.
The eastern Pacific and Atlantic hurricane seasons officially start on May 15 and June 1, respectively.
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico flowed for three months in 2010. It is recorded as the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The spill, which stemmed from a sea-floor oil that resulted from the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, killed 11 men and injured 17 others, including massive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries.
- Pacific Santa Ana Drillship Arrives in U.S. Gulf of Mexico to Work for Chevron (mb50.wordpress.com)
- 1st tropical depression of Pacific season forms (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- First tropical depression forms off the coast of Mexico ahead of official start of hurricane season (mega949.com)
- First tropical depression forms off the coast of Mexico ahead of official start of hurricane season (640whlo.com)
LIMA | Sat May 5, 2012 7:30pm EDT
(Reuters) – Peru‘s government declared a health alert along its northern coastline on Saturday and urged residents and tourists alike to stay away from long stretches of beach, as it investigates the unexplained deaths of hundreds of dolphins and pelicans.
At least 1,200 birds, mostly pelicans, washed up dead along a stretch of Peru’s northern Pacific coastline in recent weeks, health officials said, after an estimated 800 dolphins died in the same area in recent months.
The Health Ministry recommended staying away from beaches, though stopped short of a ban, and called on health officials to use gloves, masks and other protective gear when collecting dead birds.
The peak tourism season around Lima‘s beaches is over, though many surfers are still venturing into the waters near the capital.
The Agriculture Ministry said preliminary tests on some dead pelicans pointed to malnourishment. Oscar Dominguez, head of the ministry’s health department, said experts had ruled out bird flu.
“The Health Ministry … calls on the population to abstain from going to the beaches until the health alert is lifted,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website, along with a photograph of a dead pelican.
The ministry said officials had so far checked 18 beaches in and around Lima for dead birds, but gave no details on any findings.
A mass pelican death along Peru’s northern coast in 1997 was blamed at the time on a shortage of feeder anchovies due to the El Nino phenomenon.
- Over 1200 Dead Pelicans in Northern Peru, Same Region as Mass Dolphin Die-Off (pakalertpress.com)
- Mystery As Hundreds Of Pelicans Die In Peru (news.sky.com)
- Dead Dolphins and Now Hundreds of Dead Pelicans in Peru (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Peru investigates mystery pelican deaths (edition.cnn.com)
The United States Coast Guard is being left behind in the Arctic. While countries such as Russia are building up their icebreaker fleet and actively increasing their presence in the Arctic, the United States is losing its only form of sovereignty in the region.
On December 1, Rear Admiral Jeffrey M. Garrett, U.S. Coast Guard, testified before Congress on protecting U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic. He stated in Second Line of Defense that “the Icebreaker fleet represents the main surface presence that the U.S. can exert in what is essentially a maritime domain in the Arctic Ocean.” Yet today, the Coast Guard has an icebreaker fleet of only three ships. Worse yet, two of these ships are out of commission due to maintenance work and will not be available for at least seven more years.
The lone icebreaker in commission is the USCGC Healy, which conducts all types of missions from search and rescue to navigational aid to scientific research. Though the ship has been effective at its job in the Arctic, it is designed to break through ice of only medium thickness; for ice of heavy thickness, the Healy is absolutely useless. And like the other two icebreakers, it is quickly aging.
Without efforts to modernize the fleet, the future of the U.S. national maritime interest and security in the Arctic is looking pretty bleak. Icebreakers are a necessity in the region, and without them the U.S. might as well throw in the towel. These ships are key to year-round access to the Arctic and are the only U.S. insurance policy for future hazardous events. If something happens to the Healy, then the United States would not only lose access to the region but would not be able to react to potential oil spills and would become less effective in search-and-rescue missions.
Complicating matters even further, ice in the Arctic is melting, producing more ocean area for the transportation of goods and services in the region. Essentially, whoever best utilizes this route will control trade and transportation of goods and materials in the upper hemisphere. With all other nations around the Arctic building their icebreaker fleets and exploiting the key transportation route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the United States is falling behind.
In order to create an icebreaking fleet to maintain U.S. presence in the region, the Administration should look toward privatizing the fleet. Allowing private companies to own and operate the U.S. icebreaking fleet and perform national security functions would not only allow for crucial modernization but also save federal dollars and expand U.S. capabilities in the Arctic. This is particularly important at a time when the government is looking to cut corners in federal spending.
Ultimately, something must be done. If the U.S. does not act fast, it will come in last in the race for the Arctic.
Tyler Davis is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm
Posted in American Leadership
- The Coast Guard needs new icebreakers to protect U.S. interests in the Arctic (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- U.S. Subcommittee: USCG Needs Icebreakers (gcaptain.com)
- AP Interview: lt. gov. calls for US icebreakers (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Congress and White House differ over icebreakers (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Polar icebreaker dispute ties up Coast Guard appropriations (cnn.com)
- AP Interview: Lt. Gov. calls for US icebreakers (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
Oil rig under tow, South China Sea-photo: Peter Bowater
Posted by thủy tinh vỡ
HANO: To China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, another Saudi Arabia of oil may lie beneath the ocean to its south. Escalating regional tensions mean large-scale drilling may be slipping further into the future.
The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, or 80 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the United States Energy Information Agency. The world’s second-largest economy claims ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over most of the sea, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil and Russia’s Gazprom are exploring.
Disputes have strained China’s ties with its neighbors and tensions rose this year as Vietnam said oil survey boats were harassed by Chinese vessels. The friction threatens maritime security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and may be discussed at a two-day summit of Asia-Pacific leaders hosted by US President Barack Obama in Honolulu starting today.
“China is the elephant in the room at the moment, so like it or not, you cannot ignore it,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the independent China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in Fujian province. “Countries at the rim of the South China Sea are under pressure to find a practical way to deal with its presence — not to anger or challenge it.”
The sea lies south of mainland China at the western extreme of the Pacific Ocean, and while it borders several nations China claims a huge expanse. That’s based largely on a historical map that predates the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. There are hundreds of islands, many disputed.
Chinese and Vietnamese military forces clashed in the Paracel Islands in 1974 and the Spratly Islands in 1988. The region, marked by China’s ‘nine-dotted line’ to delineate its territorial claims, extends hundreds of miles south from its Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo, and overlaps with areas claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The Philippines will propose a new initiative to settle disputes in the South China Sea at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said October 26. President Benigno Aquino will also meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Manila this month and discuss maritime security with Obama at the East Asia summit in Bali on Novembesr 18, del Rosario said.
The US set off China’s ire in 2010 when Hillary, speaking at a regional summit in Hanoi, called resolving the competing claims to the sea ‘a leading diplomatic priority’. That drew a rebuke from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said internationalising the incident with US involvement ‘can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve’.
“There are challenges facing the Asia-Pacific that demand America’s leadership, from ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to countering North Korea’s provocations and proliferation activities to promoting balanced and inclusive economic growth,” Hillary said in Honolulu on Thursday.
The US has longstanding security alliances with countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, which it aims to enhance, and faces a balancing act as it seeks to deepen regional integration.
Nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam are simultaneously attracted by Chinese commerce and concerned by what they consider Chinese belligerence.
- Regional disputes delay large-scale drilling of oil in South China Sea (Oman Time) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Philippines seeks summit on sea row; China cool (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil (nextbigfuture.com)
- Cambodia: Dispute in South China Sea should be solved between China, concerned countries (xinhua) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Vietnam diplomat warns of war in South China Sea (ABS-CBN) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- US, Asia deepen security ties amid China challenge (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Vietnam diplomat warns of war in South China Sea (buletinterkini.wordpress.com)
DOF Subsea, a subsidiary of DOF ASA advises that it has secured a campaign of work in the New Zealand Taranaki Basin for the new build DSV Skandi Singapore for an undisclosed sum. The vessel will mobilize for New Zealand on completion of the current work program in Indonesia for Conoco Philips.
Work in the Taranaki Basin involves diving and ROV operations for for AWE Limited, Shell Todd Oil Services Limited and Origin Energy. The program of work will be completed in February 2012.
Steve Brown, EVP, Asia Pacific said
“The Skandi Singapore is an ideal vessel for the work in the Taranaki Basin. The vessel is the newest DSV in the DOF Subsea fleet and is equipped for extreme weather operation in environmentally sensitive areas. Since delivery, the Skandi Singapore has proven to be a highly capable vessel and is building an excellent reputation with our regional clients.
With the delivery of new vessels into the region, DOF Subsea continues to build a strong project focused organization based in Perth, Australia and Singapore. With a regional project management and engineering capability based around 220 permanently employed engineers and support staff and the highest quality vessels in the region DOF Subsea continues to pursue growth across all subsea market sectors”
Mons Aase, CEO said that the contract awards in Asia Pacific are great news and that the investment in new assets is positive for further growth in the region.
- USA: EMAS Wins Gulf of Mexico Subsea Contract from BP (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Re-inventing subsea intervention to keep economics above water (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Mexico: Cal Dive to Install Subsea Pipeline in Abkatun Offshore Field (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Gulf of Mexico: Vector Lands Cascade Chinook Field Job (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Shell Perdido: The first full field subsea separation and pumping system in the Gulf of Mexico. (video) (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Perdido Subsea System (video) (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Statoil: Riserless light well intervention (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Subsea:The Riserless Light Well Intervention – (Video) (mb50.wordpress.com)
In a recent trip to Brazil, President Obama praised the Brazilians for their forward-thinking energy policy and said he wants America to be one of their “best customers.” Why, then, is he keeping American energy resources off limits?
By November 23, a team of 12 Congressmen and Senators will determine if they can agree on a way to cut at least $1.2 trillion dollars from the federal deficit. If they fail to agree, predetermined cuts will automatically occur, half of which will be to the Department of Defense budget.[i] One way to get revenues without taxation and spending is to allow the U.S. oil industry to do what countries around the globe are doing: drilling for oil, onshore, offshore, in the Arctic and elsewhere. A recent study by the American Petroleum Institute (API) finds that fewer restrictions on oil drilling could increase government revenues by $800 billion, increase U.S. liquids production by 50 percent, and generate 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.[ii] And, the United States can do that just by allowing the oil industry to develop oil resources here in the United States as other countries are doing in their countries: Canada, Norway, Cuba, Brazil, Russia, Israel, to name just a few.
Oil Finds and Development around the Globe
Brazil. Brazil has some 15 billion barrels of proved oil reserves in its sub-salt offshore fields. They lie in a 2 kilometer deep salt layer under the seabed that is estimated to hold up to 50 billion barrels of oil.[iii] These ultra-deep deposits are drilled at up to three times the normal pressure for offshore oil. By 2020, Petrobras, the country’s government-controlled oil company, is expected to produce 4 million barrels per day, double its volume today.[iv] Other estimates have production as much as 5 million barrels a day and 6.42 million barrel a day by 2020.[v] The sub-salt’s share of total domestic oil production is expected to increase from 2 percent in 2011 to 40.5 percent in 2020.[vi]
While the United States has oil offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Obama Administration either has that oil off limits to exploration or is slow at approving leases since it lifted the drilling moratorium it put in place after BP’s accident in the Gulf. In Alaska, which has over 50 percent of the entire coastline of the United States[vii], fewer than 100 exploratory wells[viii] have been drilled in federal waters, while over 35,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico[ix]. Alaska has tremendous unknown potential for energy discoveries, but currently, final permits have not been issued to allow exploratory wells. But, during President Obama’s visit to Brazil earlier this year, he pledged that the United States will be a major customer for Brazilian oil.
Canada. Canada is rich in oil sands with 170 billion barrels in reserves. Environmentalists are against oil sands because their production emits more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of conventional oil. Studies have shown that the difference in emissions from well to wheel is only about 15 percent. Further, a new technology, developed by N-Solv, an Alberta Consortium, can extract twice the amount of oil as current methods and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the process by up to 85 percent.[xi] But none the less, the dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline bringing Canadian oil into the United States is due mainly to the oil sands production issue.
Needless to say, whether the United States buys Canadian oil sands or not, someone will and that someone is most likely China, who has already bought into Canadian oil fields. In July, China’s largest offshore oil producer, Cnooc Ltd. agreed to buy OPTI Canada Inc. for about $2.1 billion a deal that has to be approved by both governments.[xii] Also, whether the United States allows Canada to build the Keystone XL pipeline or not, the United States will be importing Canadian oil sands, moving it by barge, rail, or truck, as we do now. An Ensys Energy & Systems Report, Inc. commissioned by the State Department estimated that rail alone could haul 1.25 million barrels of Canadian crude daily by 2030, nearly twice the amount of the proposed pipeline.[xiii]
Cuba. Cuba has 5 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil off its coast, just 70 miles off the Florida Keys. Soon, Cuban workers on a Chinese-built rig owned by Spain will be drilling in mile deep-waters. China has signed contracts with oil companies from Brazil, India, Italy, Russia and Spain and is in talks with China over lease deals. This oil find could make Cuba independent of Venezuelan crude, from which Cuba gets 60 percent of its oil. Due to our 49-year embargo with Cuba, U.S. oil companies cannot drill in Cuban waters, supply equipment there, or help in the event of an oil spill.[xiv]
Israel. Israel has an estimated 250 billion barrels of recoverable oil shale, second only to that of the United States, which has almost a trillion recoverable barrels. The 250 billion barrels compares favorably to the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia whose reserves total 260 billion barrels. It is estimated that the oil can be recovered at $35 to $40 a barrel using a new technique that does not use water. Israel Energy Initiatives indicates that the process is cleaner than that currently used to produce shale oil because the oil will be separated from the shale rock up to 300 meters beneath the ground, releasing water as a by-product. The extraction process involves heating the rock underground to approximately 325C, the level at which the carbon bonds in the rock start to “crack”. Production on a commercial basis is expected by the end of the decade with production levels beginning at 50,000 barrels per day, which will provide almost 20 percent of Israel’s oil consumption. [xv]
In contrast, the U.S. oil shale resources are mostly on federal lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and the U.S. federal government is withholding those lease sales.
Norway. Norway had been seeing oil production declines since 2000 when its oil production peaked due to maturing oil wells. But that trend may be reversed due to two new finds in the North Sea. Statoil ASA has made two offshore finds totaling between 500 million and 1.2 billion barrels, which is among Norway’s top ten discoveries. The new well is less than ten feet from a dry well drilled in 1971.[xvi]
“This shows Norway still has the capacity to deliver world-class discoveries,” Tim Dodson, Statoil’s exploration chief, said. “It’s probably the largest offshore oil discovery anywhere in the world this year. It has given the entire oil industry renewed optimism.”[xvii]
Russia. Russia has opened a portion of its offshore area in the Arctic Ocean to drilling and ExxonMobil has obtained the rights to drill there, but the deal may need to be reviewed by the U.S. government. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas. Russia’s economy is dependent on petroleum for about 60 percent of its export revenue. While Russia currently produces more oil than Saudi Arabia, its Siberian onshore oil fields are in decline, so the country needs to develop new areas.
This contrasts with the U. S. stance regarding drilling offshore Alaska where environmental restrictions and lawsuits by conservation organizations have held off exploration.[xviii]
The API Study
What could the oil industry achieve if restrictions on oil drilling in the United States were lessened? The American Petroleum Industry commissioned a study that assumed oil drilling would be allowed off the currently prohibited areas of the East and West Coasts, in waters off Florida’s Gulf Coast, in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on most federal public land that is not a national park. It also assumed that it would get approval to build pipelines to accommodate a doubling of Canadian oil sands production and the continuation of the tax policies currently in place for the oil industry.[xix]
The API commissioned the study from energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, who found that domestic production of petroleum liquids would increase from 7.8 million barrels per day in 2010 to 9 million barrels per day in 2030 under current policies due to increased production from shale oil and deepwater drilling. However, if the industry could meet the assumptions of the study, domestic liquids production could reach 15.4 million barrels per day close to the 19 million barrels a day that we currently consume. That would create 1 million new jobs over the next seven years and 1.4 million by 2030. The industry already supports more than 9 million jobs throughout the economy. The study indicates that the United States can come close to producing enough new oil and natural gas to displace all non-North American imports within 15 years. More than $800 billion in cumulative new government revenue could be generated by 2030 and $127 billion by 2020 – equal to about two and a half years’ worth of current federal spending on roads. Most importantly, no new taxes or increased government spending is needed to accomplish the results of the study.
Around the globe, countries are drilling for oil onshore, offshore, and in oil shale deposits. But the United States is hampered by government rules and restrictions to developing its vast resources. Without increasing taxes and without increasing government spending, the oil industry in the United States could make us independent of non-North American oil imports. And in doing so, they could create jobs and add billions of dollars to government revenues. Why don’t we take the challenge?
- USA: Chevron Strikes Oil in Deepwater Gulf of Mexico (mb50.wordpress.com)
- The Americas, Not the Middle East, Will Be the World Capital of Energy (mb50.wordpress.com)
- USA: BP Confirms Significant Resource Extension for Mad Dog Complex (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Bernard L. Weinstein: US energy resources worth the investment (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Drill, Bebé, Drill (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Chinese-built oil rig setting sail for Cuban waters (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Exxonmobil Battles U.s. Over Gulf Oil Discovery (mb50.wordpress.com)
By Andrew Stone
Twenty years ago, China had four diplomatic posts in the South Pacific.
For a newly elected head of government from the region, the first foreign port of call is likely to be the Great Hall of the People, and not Canberra, Washington or the Beehive.
Does this matter? Perhaps less so now that tensions between Taiwan and China have cooled. Previously intense rivalry between the two drove chequebook diplomacy.
Taipei and Beijing spent years wooing small Pacific nations to sign up to their particular China brand. Taiwan got six forum countries on board, but a truce has existed since the election of President Ma Ying-Jeou in 2008.
But even as the political courtship has softened, money in the form of soft loans and grants continues to pour into the region. Beijing has put up cash to lift trade, build schools and bridges, train senior military officers and in the case of Fiji, fence the president’s palace.
China is one of the region’s top three aid donors, after Australia and the US. A study by the Sydney based-Lowy Institute puts its 2009 aid to its recognised forum members at US$209 million (NZ$267m). Australia, the top regional donor, gave US$650 million to the 14 forum countries. New Zealand gave about US$100 million.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks the West needs to be awake to China in the region. Last month she railed against cuts sought by Republicans to the US foreign aid programme, telling senators: “Let’s put aside the humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in. Let’s just talk straight realpolitik. We are in competition with China.”
She noted a “huge energy find” in Papua New Guinea by the oil giant Exxon Mobil, which has begun drilling for natural gas. Clinton said China was jockeying for influence in the region and seeing how it could “come in behind us and come in under us”.
She claimed China had taken the leaders of small Pacific nations to Beijing and “wined them and dined them”. “We have a lot of support in the Pacific Ocean region. A lot of those small countries have voted with us in the United Nations, they are stalwart American allies, they embrace our values.”
Foreign policy expert Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley of Auckland University agrees.
“I would call the impact of China mildly disruptive,” he says.
Beijing did not consult countries with a history in the region, and its investments could seem out of kilter with small island needs.
Adds Hoadley: “They can be a little bit corrupt, they often engage in under-the-table favours. That’s why the leaders in the Pacific Islands are very happy to have these shonky projects, they get VIP trips to Beijing, they may get other things though that is unconfirmed.”
He says the Chinese Government was not necessarily culpable, though it might be negligent in that it sub-contracted work to companies which used inferior supplies, cut corners, ignored the local workforce and left behind projects of dubious value.
“A lot more consultation would be welcome,” suggests Hoadley.
But does China have any discernable workplan to displace the traditional Western players in the region for its own national security?
China has been part of the region for more than 150 years. Thousands of indentured labourers worked in plantations and phosphate mines in the 19th century, becoming the ancestors of the small but often successful Chinese communities in most Pacific Island states.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully does not see any “unwholesome motives” in China’s Pacific strategy. He argues the equation is quite simple. Pacific states have minerals, timber and fish – and China is a hungry buyer.
He told a high level gathering of China watchers last week in Wellington: “China is simply doing in our neighbourhood what it is doing in every neighbourhood around the globe: undertaking a level of engagement designed to secure access to resources on a scale that will meet its future needs, and establishing a presence through which it can make its other interests clear.”
But McCully wants Beijing – and Taipei – to be more transparent with the money they shower on island states and has urged China to ensure its loans do not burden small nations with debt.
Political scientist Jian Yang, who has book coming out about China’s strategy in the Pacific, expects Beijing’s influence in the region to grow, along with other major players including Japan, India and the US.
New Zealand, he argues, has historic, cultural and economic ties to the region which are not easily replaced.
“What is crucial is for New Zealand to continue its dialogue with China and the other powers.”
So far, concludes Yang, New Zealand has done well.
18 April 2011
Bishop was quoted as saying:
“We’re not going to be able to crowd them out with aid, but what we could do is join with them and be part… of their push into places like PNG.”
The argument goes something like this:
China delivers aid in the region in an apparently haphazard way that undermines internationally coordinated responses to issues such as countering corruption, efforts to strengthen governance and develop local ‘capacity’.
In fact, China ignores internationally normative ‘governance’ questions such as corruption and human rights, delivering aid and malleable ‘soft loans’ in an effort to advance narrowly defined national interests.
The suggestion that Australia, as the most significant aid provider in the region, should engage the Chinese in established international norms of coordinated aid delivery is consistent with ideals about Australia being a good international and regional citizen.
But the proposal flies in the face of established conventions and practices of Australian foreign policy.
The Australian’s guardian of this ‘realist’ foreign policy mainstream, Greg Sheridan, for example, is appalled by Bishop’s statement. He has tarred Bishop’s ideas as a ‘nonsensical thought-bubble’ and laid responsibility for the ideas with the Lowy Institute which, in his view, has no place in the cut and thrust of international politics.
For Sheridan, Australia’s only role as a middle-power in the Pacific is to remain firmly and loyally wedded to the American imperium.
While I doubt we’ll hear Bishop repeat the Lowy Institute proposal, her contribution should be welcomed for opening a broader discussion about Australia’s role in the rapidly-changing region.
Bishop is right to suggest that Australian foreign policy should engage much more actively with the region and avoid the tragic distraction of US wars far away. Where Bishop, the Lowy Institute and the realist mainstream might be wrong, is in understanding what is already going on in PNG.
In particular, it neglects the deep unrest at the ‘grasruts’.
One source of grassroots unrest is the $US16.5 billion Exxon-Mobil led consortium bringing gas from the Southern Highlands to a processing plant in Port Moresby and on to energy-hungry markets in Asia. This is the big development story in PNG today.
The 30-year project is expected to generate $US5.6 billion in royalties, taxes and dividends lifting PNG from its lowly ranking at 148 (out of 182) nations in the UN Human Development Index. The hope is that it will bring quality schools, healthcare and infrastructure to people across the country.
The first indications are not good. Landowner groups are demanding transparency from the agency which distributes their royalties apparently at whim, and provides no accounts or explanations of hefty ‘management fees’.
At the local level, royalty disputes have already led to acrimonious community divisions with at least 15 reported shooting deaths at either end of the pipeline, and construction sabotage and stoppages at the well.
The consortium appears to have washed its hands of the royalty distribution issue, preferring instead to talk up its distribution of 14,000 anti-malarial mosquito nets to pipeline communities in glossy ‘social and environmental impact statements’.
Meanwhile, the Chinese-run Ramu Nickel mine has led to even deeper resentments. There is deep community unrest over the damage being done to the Ramu river catchment and the authoritarian and contemptuous response at the mine to local concerns. The regional capital Madang has seen big anti-Chinese riots, as have parts of the highlands where a new wave of small-scale Chinese entrepreneurs are bitterly resented.
As the US-China dynamic becomes more complicated and control of regional resources more crucial, ‘middle power’ Australia needs to make some principled, long-term choices. One of those would be recognising that Australia’s long-term national interest lies with supporting local communities and emergent civil society organisations which have the resilience to weather the approaching storms and perhaps call their governments to account.
This will mean stepping out of the shadow of whichever great power we habitually attach ourselves to, and having a truly independent foreign policy. I don’t think that’s a ‘thought-bubble’ Bishop, Sheridan or the Foreign Minister Rudd can even begin to imagine.