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Caspian Sea Oil Politics

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Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Caspian area was not a major factor in the global oil market. Since then, interest in the region has skyrocketed due to strong economic and political competition. United States officials have been estimating that the Caspian Sea may hold more oil than any other Middle Eastern area. These estimates have been largely falsified. The truth is that the Caspian Sea region does not hold nearly as much oil as originally predicted. The United States is imparting far too much interest in the area given the predicted benefits.

In 1998 Dick Cheney (current United States Vice President and then CEO of Halliburton) stated that he “cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically important as the Caspian” (Nourzhanov). This statement has been used by countless other analysts and politicians to describe the importance of the Caspian area.

In December 1995 the American Petroleum Institute estimated that the proven oil reserves in the Caspian region were figured to contain a number of barrels in excess of 659 billion. At the time, this was approximately two thirds of the world’s known reserves (Karasac). The Caspian region was coined as the new Persian Gulf. Numbers like this are certain to spark international interest in the matter. The United States immediately rushed in to prevent other global powers from forming alliances that would challenge the US in obtaining substantial amounts of oil.

These efforts were immensely unwarranted. The latest information provided by the Oil & Gas Journal lists the proven oil reserves in the Caspian region at 17 billion barrels. This number is astoundingly less than the amount originally estimated throughout the 1990s. In comparison, the North Sea, which is not a large factor in the global oil market, has proven oil reserves around 16.3 billion barrels (Nourzhanov). Clearly the Caspian Sea is nowhere near becoming a new Persian Gulf, which was a major part of the United States’ interest. The U.S. had hoped to diversify the international oil supply away from the Persian Gulf, which could result in lower oil prices (Nourzhanov). The region simply does not have the necessary oil reserves. Not only that, but its remote location makes transportation nearly impossible. The United States has had, and will continue to have, more success finding oil closer to home. A 2005 study shows that more oil was imported from Mexico and Canada than Saudi Arabia (Nourzhanov).

Caspian oil is currently not an important issue for the United States, as it would not make a large impact on our economy. This is largely different for other countries. In the long run, Caspian oil may be able to represent up to four percent of global oil production (Andrianopoulous). The United States needs to lower its interest in the region to allow for



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