Congress is in a tizzy because BP lobbied for the release of “the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.”
The released prisoner, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was a Libyan intelligence agent who doctors said had only a few months to live due to advanced prostate cancer. However, it’s almost a year later and he’s still alive, as are BP’s hopes of a $20 billion investment in Libyan oil fields. (The release smells of political quid pro quo.) The $20 billion represents “BP’s return to Libya after decades of exclusion that followed nationalization of the company’s interests there in the 1970s,” according to the NY Times.
Libya’s Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi, who came into power in 1969 in a military coup, “has made significant strides in normalizing relations with Western nations” since 2003. In December 2003, Libya said it would “abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction” after the U.N. had lifted sanctions in September. (Yes, that sequence seems odd to me, too.) In 2006, the U.S. rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism; Reagan imposed those sanctions in 1986. And in September 2009, Libyan diplomat Ali Triki took over the year-long presidency of UN General Assembly.
Why are western nations eager to kiss-and-make-up with Qadhafi? In a word: oil.
Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, but that is only slightly more than 3 percent of the world’s known reserves. (You can improve your gas mileage by 3 percent by keeping your tires properly inflated, driving the speed limit and curbing the need to see how fast you can go from zero-to-35.)
Despite these reserves, Libya ranks only 15th in the world in oil production. That puts it below Norway, the Netherlands and the U.K. So western salivation is more about the potential of oil than the reality. That could explain BP’s desire to make a $20 billion investment. And Libya’s oil minister’s call for the country to invest in BP given the beating its stock has taken over the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Libya’s geographic proximity to Europe (resulting in low transportation costs) could explain why those countries might be eager to avert their eyes to human rights violations. But why would “the last three American administrations have been keen for American oil companies to strike deals with Libya,” as BP told the New York Times?
Expediency (we must have oil no matter the cost) over values. To wit:
- CIA World Factbook: “Libya is a transit and destination country for men and women from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.”
- CIA World Factbook: “Libya is on the Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to address trafficking in persons in 2007 when compared to 2006, particularly in the area of investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses; Libya did not publicly release any data on investigations or punishment of any trafficking offenses (2008).”
- Human Rights Watch: “The government severely curtails freedom of expression and association, banning political parties and independent organizations. It continues to imprison individuals for criticizing Libya’s unique political system, the government, or its leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Due process violations and torture remain concerns, as do disappearances from past years.” (2006)
- Human Rights Watch: “Libya’s international reintegration continued to move ahead despite the government’s ongoing human rights violations. Driven by business interests and Libya’s cooperation in combating terrorism and irregular migration, European governments and the United States strengthened ties with Libya during 2009.” (2010)
Libya (Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) is a country of 6.4 million people, where 78 percent live in metropolitan areas; 97 percent are Sunni Muslim. (Could that be why we don’t care about the human rights violations? Because these people don’t look or pray like us?) The unemployment rate is ~30 percent. (That’s volatile.) Its economy is oil-based, the source of about 95 percent of export earnings, 25 percent of GDP and 60 percent of public sector wages. (Single-source economics has a finite lifespan.)
Libya’s oil production peaked in the late 1960s, and this may not have been entirely due to the coup. Oil production in the U.S. peaked in 1970; Indonesia in 1997; the UK in 1999; Australia in 2000; Norway in 2001; and Mexico in 2004. Given the consensus “among informed observers and industry insiders” that oil production has peaked — that is, that we have consumed more than 50 percent of the original oil reserves — we can expect more, not less, acts of political expediency (like both the release of al-Megrahi and Congressional protest) until we wean ourselves from oil as the engine of global economic growth.
For more on peak oil, see TheOilDrum.
Known for gnawing at complex questions like a terrier with a bone. Digital evangelist, writer, teacher. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill, wiredpen.com