US Shale Boom Fuels Security Fears … In The Middle East

  • Date: 15/01/13
  • Platts

Now that the US is producing much more of its own oil due to the shale boom, Middle Eastern countries are growing increasingly fearful that the US will abandon its longstanding security commitments in the region.

For more than four decades, the so-called “oil-for-security” deal has worked like this: Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries have assured the US that they will supply as much crude as America wants to buy. In exchange, the US military has helped keep the peace in the critically important but volatile Persian Gulf region — a security presence that has allowed those countries to keep their oil exports flowing.

But now that the US is producing much more of its own oil due to the shale-drilling boom, some of America’s Persian Gulf allies are growing increasingly fearful that the US will abandon its longstanding security commitments in the region, according to President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser.

“In the Arab mind, they can see a scenario where — maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or next year — but they can see a long-term scenario where this so-called oil-for-security deal that we’ve had with them for over 40 years could be at risk,” James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general who advised Obama from 2009 to 2010, said in an interview.

Jones, who now works on energy issues at a Washington think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the Obama administration’s efforts to improve trade relations with China and other Asian countries are also giving Middle Eastern oil producers cause to believe that the US is distancing itself from them and their crude.

Jones declined to name the Middle Eastern countries that he says harbor these types of fears, which he summed up as, “Our dependence on their main product will be lessened, and therefore our attention could be lessened.”

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the US shale-drilling boom, which started ramping up in earnest in about 2008 due to technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. These ongoing developments recently led the Paris-based International Energy Agency to forecast that the US will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer before 2020, and that America will be energy independent by 2030.

Jones emphasized that he does not believe that the US will abandon its longstanding security commitments in the Middle East, saying America’s interests are far too entrenched in the region to risk that kind of break.

“Even if we wanted to disassociate ourselves, I don’t think a country like the United States with global security responsibilities could walk away anytime in the foreseeable future from our security obligations in the gulf,” Jones said.

Nevertheless, Jones said some of the US’ Middle Eastern allies remain unconvinced, and that the Obama administration should do more to ally their fears as a means of maintaining stability in the region.

Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, echoed that view. Alterman said officials in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have all expressed trepidation over the US shale-drilling boom and the Obama administration’s increasing focus on Asia.

“All of these countries have different moods … but I think there is a general belief that a number of things are coming together that will shift their relationship with the US,” Alterman said.

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