News Release

Welcome to the Energy Third-World: the United States

MICHAEL T. KLARE, via Leslie Brandon, leslie.brandon at hholt.com
Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of the new book The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources. He just wrote the piece “A New Energy Third World in North America? How the Big Energy Companies Plan to Turn the United States into a Third-World Petro-State,” which states: “The ‘curse’ of oil wealth is a well-known phenomenon in Third World petro-states where millions of lives are wasted in poverty and the environment is ravaged, while tiny elites rake in the energy dollars and corruption rules the land. Recently, North America has been repeatedly hailed as the planet’s twenty-first-century ‘new Saudi Arabia’ for ‘tough energy’ — deep-sea oil, Canadian tar sands, and fracked oil and natural gas. But here’s a question no one considers: Will the oil curse become as familiar on this continent in the wake of a new American energy rush as it is in Africa and elsewhere? Will North America, that is, become not just the next boom continent for energy bonanzas, but a new energy Third World?

“Eager to escape ever-stronger environmental restrictions and dying oil fields at home, the energy giants were naturally drawn to the economically and environmentally wide-open producing areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America — the Third World — where oil deposits were plentiful, governments compliant, and environmental regulations few or nonexistent.

“Here, then, is the energy surprise of the twenty-first century: with operating conditions growing increasingly difficult in the global South, the major firms are now flocking back to North America. To exploit previously neglected reserves on this continent, however, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles. It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

“The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way of intensified drilling, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way. Put another way, North America will have to be Third-Worldified.

“How we characterize our energy predicament in the coming decades and what path we ultimately select will in large measure determine the fate of this nation.”