Socialist Worker

Are there alternative sources of oil?

Issue No. 2113

High demand for oil is pushing the US Congress to rip up legislation that protects the Alaskan wildlife reserve, which holds between 5.9 billion to 13.2 billion barrels of oil.

The US consumes over 20 million barrels a day.

Bush, and whoever succeeds him, also wants to drill in the so-called Outer Continental Shelf – the sea beds off the US coast.

Congress banned all offshore drilling as part of a programme of environmental protection in 1981, when oil was cheaper to import.

But with an estimated reserve of 86 billion barrels – the equivalent of ten years’ supply of US oil needs – the US elite is tempted to overhaul the ban.

Both projects threaten delicate ecosystems and would do untold damage to the environment.

Another possible source of oil is tar sands – also known as extra heavy oil. High prices mean that the extraction of this crude is becoming more viable.

Tar sand is a solid form of crude oil that is strip-mined. The deposits held in Venezuela and Canada alone are each equivalent to the global reserves of conventional crude oil.

Processing this heavy crude into fuel releases up to three times as much greenhouse gas as the production of light and sweet crude. This would be an environmental catastrophe.

And to process tar sands into gasoline or diesel would require a huge investment in refineries.

According to the Wall Street Journal tar sands require so much heat in the processing that one French oil giant “briefly floated the idea of building a nuclear-power plant” near Canada’s major reserve.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Iraq (see map above) hold the majority of the world’s reserves of cheap, sweet crude.

For this reason the Middle East is the most important source of cheap oil – and control over these reserves remains the obsession of imperialism.

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