Geopolitics of Global Oil and Gas Markets

Hertie School of Governance, Berlin

Spring 2016 (February-May)

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Instructor: Dr. Thomas W. O'Donnell
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Course Descripton:
Learning Objectives:
The course provides a cross-disciplinary analysis of both the global oil system (which fuels 94% of all transport) and gas system (which is increasingly contested, especially for Europe) focusing on the connections between market realities and geopolitics within each. We also examine difficulties and failures of alternatives to oil in transport, as well as the intensification of gas geopolitics as alternatives displace coal and nuclear power, examining selected historical and present-day market and geopolitical crises.

The goal is for students to attain an informed, realist view of the economics and geopolitics of oil and gas, and the constantly evolving inter-relatedness of their resource bases, technologies, markets, geopolitics and climate well as the constraints presented for alternatives.

We aim to become familiar with the viewpoints and process of the US analysis-and-policy-making community in Washington regarding energy markets and geopolitical affairs in comparison and contrast to viewpoints and processes in Berlin and Brussels.

We begin with today's "one global barrel" market-centered oil system, which replaced the late-neo-colonial order following the OPEC Revolution and energy crises of the 1970s and 80s. This market is itself the key element of today's collective international energy security system that was initiated historically by the USA, and which remains its predominant actor. This role, albeit troubled, remains a pillar of US superpower status. We examine this system's institutionalization via spot and futures markets, the OECD/IEA, OPEC and the IEF, and the roles of Russia, China, EU states (esp. Germany) and OPEC (esp. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq), and the character of modern oil conflicts.

Secondly, we examine, albeit more briefly, gas-market internationalization (globalization) and options for Europe in light of today's global gas glut (e.g., LNG from US fracking and elsewhere), the integration project of EU gas markets and infrastructures, EU and German policies in response to Russian gas and the Ukraine crisis, and internal-EU gas tensions existing between Brussels and Russian-gas-dependent member states as versus Germany and some other northern states.

Thirdly, we examine the limited global carbon-mitigation impact to-date of bio-fuels (ethanol and bio-diesel), batteries and hydrogen in displacing oil, with the IEA, EIA and IPCC projecting oil to remain the principal global fuel for decades hence. We investigate the impact of alternatives on energy geopolitics; of an "alternative modes" as versus "alternative fuels" strategy to resolve the dual crises of carbon-emissions and traffic-congestion (i.e., what a "Transportwende" requires), and the rationale for utilization of next-generation nuclear power to mitigate carbon in electrical generation.