Independence, risk, and energy: a view from Saudi Arabia

Nov. 22, 2010
From Saudi Arabia, US bluster about energy independence must look delusional.

by Bob Tippee, Editor

From Saudi Arabia, US bluster about energy independence must look delusional.

Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, a former ambassador to the US, didn't express the kingdom's view in those stark terms in a Nov. 11 lecture at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. But he raised issues frequently overlooked in American discussions of the subject. He asserted, for example, that the pursuit of energy independence eventually will drive producers and consumers toward interdependence. And he supported work on energy other than oil.

"No country can or should power itself from one form of energy," said Faisal, who was ambassador in the US in 2005-07 and in the UK and Republic of Ireland before that. "It is strategically, economically, politically, socially, and environmentally irresponsible."

In fact, the world's most important exporter of oil is developing solar, wind, and nuclear capability and boosting gas use, aiming to meet all its growing needs with nonoil energy. It's also helping other countries advance energy alternatives. But this is no turn away from oil, of which Saudi Arabia holds the commanding reserves position. Faisal disparaged recent announcements of big "reserves" hikes by other countries as "completely hypothetical," based on unproven volumes.

"Were we to begin making claims about unproven reserves," he said, "we would be able to announce the possession of over 700 billion bbl."

As evidence of security of supply from that huge base, Faisal cited the "dozens of years of multibillion-dollar investment" Saudi Arabia has committed to maintaining idle production capacity as a market buffer against supply losses elsewhere. In that context, the Macondo tragedy in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico represents a "cautionary tale," said Faisal.

"To literally go to the ends of the earth to retrieve oil is probably not the wisest long-term energy strategy, especially when a country like Saudi Arabia has so much oil that can be safely retrieved," he said. "But of course in the age of the cries of energy independence, more risks are taken."

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