News & Politics

Connecting the Energy Dots to Afghanistan

While the media has most of us looking at Afghanistan as a war-torn haven of terrorists, energy companies see the country as a treasure trove of undeveloped resources.
While the easily led follow the morality play being acted out on television using scripted dialogue like "liberation" and "democracy," let's play a quick game of connect-the-dots and see if some kind of pattern emerges -behind the scenes.

Even with all of the media attention on Afghanistan as we prosecute the "war on terrorism," still we have only a fuzzy focus of that part of the world, and even less of a sense of our more camouflaged connections to the region. The picture that emerges is a land teeming with wild-eyed warlords, malnourished children, abused women, mud huts and treacherous mountain terrain whose caverns and underground caves are home to minions of malevolence -- basically, a scene out of Lord of the Rings.

The Bush administration insists the war on terrorism, with Iraq as the next target, is all about fighting evil and defending innocents, and that it doesn't have anything to do with commercial interests. Read energy industry publications and talk to industry insiders and you'll be able to mine more than a few fascinating facts that make it extremely difficult for a thinking person to believe that what's really wagging the dog is anything other than competing commercial interests.

Because business people are always on the prowl for new moneymaking opportunities, they tend to see untapped (profit) potential where ordinary folk see only problems. So while the media lens has most of us looking at Afghanistan as a war-torn haven of terrorists, energy companies see the country as incredibly rich in undeveloped resources.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Mineral Yearbook, the National Geographic Atlas of the World and the Statistical Abstract of the World all recognize Afghanistan and the surrounding region as an area with "large deposits of natural gas" and "huge deposits of iron ore," not to mention the significant deposits of gold, precious stones and other minerals waiting to be mined.

Back in December, the New York Times reported that "the arc of countries in Central Asia where Western oil companies work grazes Afghanistan. But the value of Afghanistan itself, if any, might be as a pipeline route."

Four years ago, UNOCAL Corp., with State Department backing, negotiated with the Taliban to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, connecting Turkemenistan with Pakistan. Matthew J. Sagers of Cambridge Energy Research Associates offered the New York Times this gem: "Once we bomb the hell out of Afghanistan, we will have to cough up some projects there, and this pipeline is one of them."

The pipeline consortium is led by British Petroleum. Guess which law firm represents the consortium? Baker & Botts, the law firm of James A. Baker III, "a Bush family confidant and former secretary of state," to quote a New York Times business story.

Recall Secretary of State Colin Powell's December visit to Kazakhstan, a country that just happens to contain 88 percent of Central Asia's oil wealth. During that visit, Powell said he was "particularly impressed" with the money that American oil companies were investing there and that he estimated about $200 billion would flow into Kazakhstan over the next decade or so.

That same month, a subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, was awarded an "open-ended" Pentagon contract to take care of military logistics in the region, which includes everything from running a dining facility to handling fuel and generating power at the Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan.

Now, here's another dot: Wind is the fastest-growing energy industry in the world right now. Longtime energy industry reporter Matt Bivens dubbed America "the Persian Gulf of wind."

The Energy Department estimates that wind in the Dakotas alone could meet two-thirds of America's electricity needs and that Texas could meet the rest. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 12,000 square miles in Nevada alone could produce enough solar electricity to power the nation!

What's so attractive about wind power? Bivens points out the obvious: it's the cleanest and "the most terrorist-proof of all energy sources."

But, according to the Center for Public Integrity, the top 100 officials in the Bush White House have put the majority of their personal investments, up to $144.6 million, into the old-guard energy sector.

After meeting with Enron execs and the like, Bush's energy bill ended up including $35 billion over the next 10 years for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries, which amounts to about $125 per American taxpayer, according to Bivens. "By contrast, wind production tax credits have, to date, cost each American about 19 cents."

Connect the energy dots and it becomes obvious that the emotional, nationalistic rhetoric shrouding the "war on terrorism" obscures more than it reveals.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. Email him at [email protected].