HOUSTON -- The notion of energy ‘independence’ is unrealistic, and it’s unlikely that the United States, Europe or any other region of rising energy consumption will ever achieve it, said Edward Djerejian during “The Geopolitics of Natural Gas,” a recent conference at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
The former Clinton ambassador to Israel, former ambassador to Syria under President George H. W. Bush and a founding director of the Baker Institute said energy security is what policymakers must seek.
“To me, energy independence is like the ‘War on Poverty,’ or the ‘War on Drugs,'” Djerejian told a crowd during his presentation on geopolitical developments in the Middle East. “It’s a bridge too far. Energy security is the goal and that is a truly realizable goal.”
Djerejian made the point that global markets in oil and increasingly, in natural gas, require consumers to interact with producers around the world.
“The infrastructure and demand in place will always require strong American relations in the Middle East and the Arab Gulf,” he said. “Shale gas and oil moves the country forward toward increasing energy security … and highlights the importance of understanding how the geopolitics of energy will affect the global market in the coming decades.”
Djerejian explained that two major revolutions in recent years have changed the geopolitical landscape: the Arab Spring and the rise of shale technology.
The Arab Spring that grew in December 2010 from violent protests in Tunisia proved to be a ‘tectonic shift’ in the Middle East, Djerejian said. The uprising raised the political stakes for stable supplies of natural gas in the Middle East.
“Historically, the impact of political instability in the Middle East and North Africa on energy markets around the world is undeniable,” he said.
The shale revolution that has reversed the recent trend, in which production in North America was in decline, means Europe is no longer shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the U.S. That gives Europeans more supply and some alternative to Russian gas. It also decreases U.S. exposure to events in the Middle East, Djerejian said.
But, he added, shale’s longer term impacts are difficult to discern. The supply in both Russia and the Middle East has yet to be determined. What’s more, he said, it’s still unclear how countries that have identified supplies will pursue shale development.
“Whatever the outcome, the complex relationship between energy and geopolitics in the Middle East will rebalance as the western hemisphere evolves into a more energy-secure zone,” he said.