Showing posts with label Resource Curse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Resource Curse. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On oil windfalls and African progress

Is the discovery of crude oil a blessing or curse for emerging economies? Does it further or hinder democracy and development? Is an oil rich nation’s currency destined to suffer from Dutch Disease?

These are profound questions and nowhere do they need to be answered more than in the continent of Africa. John Heilbrunn’s book Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa published by Cambridge University Press tackles the socioeconomic and political impact of oil in sub-Saharan Africa head on. 

In a somewhat refreshing take, Heilbrunn suggests that should historical and economic situations faced by African petrostates prior to the discovery of their oil be contextualised and discounted, there’s little evidence of a curse. Taking on a more optimistic tone than most, the author sets about a fascinating explanation of why he thinks even the most despotic and least accountable of African heads of state do use some proportion of oil revenues to improve their citizens' living standards.

Improvements have “failed to be uniform”, he admits, but that’s not to say there have been none. In a book of 270 pages, split by six detailed chapters, Heilbrunn writes there is much to be positive about while not losing sight of the biggest puzzle of them all – how the discovery of a natural resource changes the national and political psyche, as it is virtually impossible to predict “how political leaders respond to resource windfalls.”

While sum of all its parts makes this book a great read, Heilbrunn’s take on resource revenues, corruption and contracts in latter stages of the narrative should strike a chord with most readers. It has to be acknowledged that some African producers are pretty high on the corruption scale, but not every producer can be tarred with the same brush. 

All said, as Heilbrunn notes, oil can do nothing, being a mere mineral of variable qualities and marketability. “People choose how to oversee their extractive industries and the effects of oil production are consequences of policy choices.”

These choices alone determine the pace and scale of progress anywhere and not just Africa. Some of the book’s conclusions might surprise many readers, some might find the narrative a bit too optimistic for their linking, but for the Oilholic it’s a book containing some unassailable truths on African progress.

Heilbrunn is not attempting to gloss over what’s wrong at African petrostates. On the contrary, he puts forward what they are doing to get it right, with all their imperfections, following on from decolonisation and the inevitable expectations (plus subsequent windfall) a resource discovery brings with it.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend it to fellow analysts, those interested in the oil and gas business, African development, politics and the resource curse hypothesis. Last but not the least, that growing chorus of commentators calling upon the wider world to ditch archaic conclusions and reassess the impact of natural resources on developing economies would also enjoy many of Heilbrunn’s conclusions.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa © Cambridge University Press, June, 2014.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

‘Petroleum Club’, policy choices & ‘crude’ control

Several nations are about to join the ‘Petroleum Club’ of crude oil producers where they’ll rub shoulders with well established patrons of the hydrocarbon exporters' fraternity.

The policymaking choices they face today could have a massive bearing on the future direction of their economies and overall management of national oil wealth. Every national market’s direction is ultimately shaped by the level of control its government wishes to have over domestic exploration and production.

Some do not have a national oil company (NOC), yet others give most of the decision-making and clout to a state entity. Factoring in developments and case studies till date, academic Bianca Sarbu delves into the key issue of state influence in her book Ownership and Control of Oil published by Routledge.

The author discusses different decisions taken by governments, subsequent outcomes, emerging themes and industry trends in their wake. In a book of just under 200 pages, split into six detailed chapters, Sarbu substantiates her arguments by pulling in case studies – both recent and historic – and puts forward conclusions confronting theoretical explanations.

The text is peppered with figures, tables and charts lending veracity to Sarbu’s scrutiny of government decisions in key oil producing countries. Her painstaking analysis of upstream policies on a pan-global level helps the readers compare and contrast what’s afoot, where, and why.

An entire chapter is dedicated to profiling Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi based on Sarbu’s in-depth research and direct interviews with over 30 energy experts on both countries. Holistic examination of NOCs’ role in oil production since the nationalisations of the 1970s from sheikdoms to democracies, leads the author to some interesting conclusions.

Sarbu opines that technical expertise of the NOC plays an important role in “explaining upstream policy choices,” especially when limits on the executive are low and “ruling elites are more likely to take economically rational decisions.”

From first impression to midway scrutiny, all the way up to ultimate conclusion, Sarbu’s treatment of the subject at hand is solid. Its an invaluable contribution towards wider understanding and contextualisation of policy frameworks within emerging and established oil producing countries and the impact they have had or are likely to have for better or worse.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend this title primarily to industry consultants. That said policymakers, oil and gas sector professionals in general, as well as students of petroleum economics and the Middle East would appreciate it in near equal measure.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Ownership and Control of Oil © Routledge, May 2014.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A superb dissection of global oil & gas depletion

Any analysis of oil and gas depletion is always tricky and often coloured by opposing arguments, disinformation, politics, tangential debates about the resource curse hypothesis and extractive techniques. Given this backdrop, veteran industry analyst Colin J. Campbell’s attempt to tackle the subject via his Atlas of Oil and Gas Depletion, currently in its second edition, is nothing short of historic.
This epic work banks on decades of painstaking research undertaken by Campbell in his quest to provide definitive and pragmatic commentary on the subject of depletion. Nine parts and 77 chapters split this weighty, authoritative volume on the subject; wherein part by part, page by page it examines oil and gas depletion by region and jurisdictions. Not only has geology been taken into consideration but also the political climate of each region and country in question. The author also discusses the impact of emergent technologies and the costs involved relative to each E&P jurisdiction with a separate examination of conventional and unconventional sources.

Accompanying discourse on the history of the oil and gas business is carved up into two halves – the first half discusses the formation of the oil industry, which oversaw (or rather fuelled) the exponential growth of the global economy. The second half talks of a contraction as the easy to extract supplies dwindle, and the barrel spent per barrel extracted equation starts getting more and more worrying.
Campbell also discusses reporting practices and industry data interpretation techniques. The Atlas switches seamlessly to a country-by-country analysis in alphabetical order by continent. Every country imaginable in the context of the oil and gas business and even those that are unimaginable in mainstream discourse about our 'crude' world are examined, substantiated by industry data and accompanying graphics.
For purposes of reviewing the contents, the Oilholic selected 10 jurisdictions commonly associated with the E&P industry and another 10 jurisdictions, hitherto considered net oil importers. This blogger was quite simply blown away by sincerity and effort of the research, along with the brevity with which jurisdictional summation was provided duly taking each country’s 'crude' history into the equation. As a reader, you appreciate a book when it adds to your knowledge; Campbell’s Atlas certainly did it for yours truly.
If you are looking for an authoritative analysis of oil and gas depletion, minus caricature, clichés and political statements, but full of rational and apolitical scrutiny of the costs involved with extracting oil and gas, then look no further than this book. For an evolving industry, which has a finite natural resource as its core offering, Campbell’s Atlas of Oil and Gas Depletion is likely to stand the test of time.

The Oilholic is happy to recommend this book, and humbled to provide a review for the research conducted by an analyst of Campbell's credentials. The Atlas will educate and inform those interested in the oil and gas industry's future and the challenges it faces – be they existential or commercial. In particular, those professionals involved with policymaking, petroleum economics, history of the oil and gas business, academia and market analysis.
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover - Campbell’s Atlas of Oil and Gas Depletion © Springer 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A historical perspective on oil and world power

Throughout his illustrious career, academic Peter Randon Odell enriched the available oil and gas market commentary and analysis of his time, writing close to 20 books and numerous research papers. In 1970, Odell wrote arguably one of his most authoritative works on the subject – Oil and World Power. He went on to update and revise it no less than eight times with the last imprint reaching bookshelves in 1986.

After over two decades, the old master’s insight is available once again via a Routledge reprint, under its Routledge Revivals Initiative which aims to re-print academic works that have long been unavailable. While the publisher’s hunt for scholarly reprints is rewinding the clock back to the last 120 years, the Oilholic is not the least bit surprised that Odell’s most popular work is among the first to roll off Routledge’s printing presses for 2013 under the Revivals Initiative.

It was Odell who was among the first to catalogue the oil industry’s commercial clout and pragmatically noted in this book that the oil and gas business was one which no country could do without given the inextricable link between industrialisation and fossil fuels.

Above anything else, this reprinted book offers Odell’s insight on the oil and gas business as it had evolved up and until the 1980s, pre-dating the corporate birth of ExxonMobil, the collapse of the Soviet Union, America’s shale bonanza and resource nationalism to the extent we see today. This in itself makes the reprint of Oil and World Power invaluable.

The reader gets a glimpse of energy hegemony as it was up and until the 1980s and Odell’s insight on issues of the day. From OPEC soundbites to the anxieties of consuming nations, from the decline of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the rise of National Oil Companies (NOCs) – it’s all there, coupled with changing patterns of oil supply and the dramatic fall in oil prices in 1986.

Yet, Odell’s conclusions in this book, of just over 300 pages split by 11 chapters, sound eerily similar; a sort of a forerunner to what industry commentators are mulling over in this day and age. In fact, the deep links, which he refers to in this book, between oil and gas extraction, conflict, resource nationalism, global politics and economic prowess are as entrenched as ever.

After discussing the bigger picture, the author goes on to offer a fair bit of forward-thinking conjecture on the relationship between the oil and gas business and economic development. There are also subtle hints at the resource curse hypothesis – a discussion which was hardly mainstream in the 1980s but is hotly debated these days.

This reprint bears testimony to the brilliance of Odell in tacking such issues head on. It would be of immense value to students of energy economics, industrial studies, international development, geopolitics and political hegemony. But above all, those looking to probe the history of the oil and gas business must certainly reach out for this engaging volume. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover – Oil and World Power © Routledge

Friday, January 18, 2013

On finite resources and China’s urges

We constantly debate about the world’s finite and fast depleting natural resources; that everything from fossil fuel to farmable acreage is in short supply. Some often take the line that the quest for mineral wealth would be a fight to the death. Others, like academic Dambisa Moyo take a more pragmatic line on resource scarcity and rationally analyse what is at stake as she has done in her latest book Winner Take All: China’s race for resources and what it means for us.

That the Chinese are in town for more than just a slice of the natural resources cake is well documented. Yet, instead of crying ‘wolf’, Moyo sequentially dissects and offers highly readable conjecture on how China is leading the global race for natural resources be it via their national oil companies, mergers, asset acquisitions, lobbying or political leverage on an international scale.

While cleverly watching out for their interests, the author explains, in this book of just over 250 pages split by two parts containing 10 chapters, that the Chinese are neck-deep in a global resources rush but not necessarily the causative agents of perceived resource scarcity.

However, that they are the dominant players in a high stakes hunt for commodities from Africa to Latin America is unmistakable. For good measure and as to be expected of a book of this nature, the author has examined a variety of tangents hurled around in a resource security debate. The Dutch disease, geopolitics, risk premium in commodities prices, resource curse hypothesis have all been visited versus the Chinese quest by Moyo.

The Oilholic found her arguments on the subject to be neither alarmist nor populist. Rather, she has done something commendable which is examine how we got to this point in the resources debate, the operations of commodity markets and the geopolitical shifts we have seen rather than sensationalise the subject matter. China, the author opines may be leading the race for resources, but is by no means the only hungry horse in town.

Overall, it is a very decent book and well worth reading given its relevance and currency in today’s world. The Oilholic would be happy recommend it to commodities traders, those interested in international affairs, geopolitics, financial news and resource economics. Finally, those who have made a career out of future projections would find it very well worth their while to absorb it from cover to cover.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Winner Take All © Allen Lane / Penguin Group UK.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Exploding the resource curse ‘myth’?

The resource curse hypothesis has its detractors and supporters in equal measure. The vanguard of many a commodities bubble – crude oil – often leads the discussion on the subject as the ‘resource’ in question. The title of a book, the first edition of which was published last year, by two academics Pauline Jones Luong and Erika Weinthal – Oil is Not a Curse – simply gives away which side of the argument they are on. Using Former Soviet Union (FSU) nations as case studies, Luong and Weithal opine that resource-rich states are cursed not by their wealth but, rather, by the ownership structure they choose to manage their natural resources with. Furthermore, contrary to popular beliefs, they also stress that weak institutions are not a given in resource-rich nations.

Without a shadow of doubt, such a chain of thought while not unique to the authors is indeed a significant departure from the conventional resource curse literature, especially journalistic writing, which has by and large treated ownership structure as a constant across time and space and has (largely) presumed that resource-rich countries are incapable of either building or sustaining strong institutions – particularly fiscal regimes.

While popular conjecture is based on the usual suspects in the Middle East and Africa, this book of just under 430 pages split by ten chapters, highlights the experiences of the five petroleum-rich FSU states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to challenge prevalent assumptions about the resource curse. The text is backed-up and contextualised with aid of ample graphs, appendices and tables.

Admittedly, while the arguments offered are very convincing in certain parts of the book, the Oilholic remains sceptical about of the case(s) in point especially those pertaining to Russia and Turkmenistan. However, at the same time the authors’ arguments in context of the other three of the aforementioned jurisdictions – especially Kazakhstan strike a convincing chord.

This FSU’s developmental trajectories since independence certainly demonstrates that ownership structure can vary even across countries that share the same institutional legacy and that this variation helps to explain the divergence in their subsequent fiscal regimes. One of the chapters in the book on foreign private ownership in Kazakhstan is one of the best the Oilholic has read on the topic.

The authors’ concluding chapter makes a reasonably, if not overwhelmingly, persuasive case about why the resource curse hypothesis is a myth. Ultimately, Luong and Weithal believe our take on the subject depends on the broadness of our frame of reference. Warning against faulty generalisations and assumptions over a truncated period of time, they feel that if scope and time frame of the research is broadened – it is not crude oil which is the curse, but Petroleum wealth, which becomes an impediment under certain conditions especially when state-owned and controlled.

The Oilholic really liked the book, albeit with some reservations and is happy to recommend it to those interested in oil, the resource curse hypothesis, current geopolitical debates and energy economics.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Cover of ‘Oil is not a curse' © Cambridge University Press 2010.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Fresh Takes on The Resource Curse Hypothesis

The hypothesis that oil damages countries it comes from, in more ways than one, has been with us for some time now. Industry observers and critics perhaps do find common ground in noting that discovery and extraction of crude oil, especially in case of developing economies exporting the stuff, has failed to provide the bonanza and even spread of prosperity that it should for these nations.

On the contrary, oil has stirred up troubles and conflicts. Furthermore, wherever one looks there is a political dimension to the dominance of this single commodity which is limited and will run out in the future, though not as dramatically as sometimes portrayed.

Adding to the debate are fresh thoughts contained in two very interesting books that I have read in recent months. The first is titled Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass. The second is titled False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Alan Beattie, the fourth chapter of which dwells on the subject (viz. Natural Resources: Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth? – Pages 95 to 120).

In his book, Maass opines interestingly that the commodity is itself the real villain here. His central argument is that oil has damaged nations it comes from as it artificially strengthens their currencies and makes the rest of the economy uncompetitive. More critically, while wealth creation occurs as a result of oil exports – it does not create what developing economies need most in appreciable numbers – jobs. Furthermore, he offers arguments that oil wealth removes the need for wise spending.

What I liked about this book is that it does not look for fall guys or hammers oil companies, who in the author’s opinion are like any other business seeking the maximum possible returns on investment. Rather, he opines that corruption, greed and strife are also by-products of the oil trade. It is an interesting and unique book though not rich on the economic analysis front.

Along this tangent, the aforementioned chapter in Beattie’s book offers more detailed economic insight. Like Maass, he agrees that it is in the nature of the oil business to benefit fewer workers, as oil and gas extraction is equipment intensive and not labour intensive. Experts believe it is labour intensive mass production industries that do more to lift people out of poverty in the form of job creation with more wages for more people. Hence, oil creates a unique problem for oil-rich developing economies.

Beattie also notes that a significant portion of the return on extraction is used by oil-exporting developing economies to purchase drilling equipment which they cannot manufacture. Throw in the geopolitical permutations and corruption that Peter Maass alludes to, add in the concept of Dutch disease, and we soon arrive at a self-inflicted tragic hotchpotch which may be labelled as a resource fuelled curse that both authors describe in some detail.

No one is discounting the fact that where managed well, oil as a resource has been good for economies exporting it. Norway is often cited as such a nation, but Beattie says it struck oil meaningfully only in the 1970s, by which time it was already a rich economy. Russia is criss-crossing between becoming a meaningful democracy and going down the old Soviet autocratic way. Oil and gas wealth ensures that it may well be, some say already is, heading in the latter direction.

Four of Africa’s longest serving autocrats are from oil exporting nations. More convincing details, especially on Equatorial Guinea, can be found in the work of Dr. Ricardo Soares de Oliveira published in 2007. For lack of a better metaphor, he aptly brands such nations as ‘failed successful states.’

Both these books, especially as they are aimed at a wider readership base rather than academia, rekindle the resource cruse discussion. I particularly like Beattie’s witty observation that oil is bulky, murky and harder to extract, but “like Visa or MasterCard, also widely accepted!”

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy Cairn Energy PLC