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2015 – End of the Petrodollar system?

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Neoconservatives arrayed in their Washington offices are congratulating themselves on their success in using the Charlie Hebdo affair to reunite Europe with Washington’s foreign policy. No more French votes with the Palestinians against the Washington-Israeli position.

No more growing European sympathy with the Palestinians. No more growing European opposition to launching new wars in the Middle East. No more calls from the French president to end the sanctions against Russia.

Do the neoconservatives also understand that they have united Europeans with the right-wing anti-immigration political parties? The wave of support for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is the wave of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, and Germany’s PEGIDA sweeping over Europe. These parties are empowered by the anti-immigration fervor that was orchestrated in order to reunite Europeans with Washington and Israel.

Once again the arrogant and insolent neoconservatives have blundered. Charlie Hebdo’s empowerment of the anti-immigration parties has the potential to revolutionize European politics and destroy Washington’s empire. See my weekend interview with King World News for my thoughts on this potential game-changer. http://kingworldnews.com/paul-craig-roberts-new-crisis-worse-russia-unleashing-black-swans-west/

The reports from the UK Daily Mail and from Zero Hedge that Russia has cut off natural gas deliveries to six European countries must be incorrect.

These sources are credible and well-informed, but such a cut-off would have instantly produced political and financial turmoil of which there is no sign. Therefore, unless there is a news blackout, Russia’s action has been misunderstood.

We know something real has happened. Otherwise, EU energy official Maros Sefcovic would not be expressing such consternation.

Although I am without any definite information, I believe I know what the real story is. Russia, tired of Ukraine’s theft of the natural gas that passes through the country on its way to delivery to Europe, has made a decision to route the gas to Turkey, thus bypassing Ukraine.

The Russian energy minister has confirmed this decision and added that if European countries wish to avail themselves of this gas supply, they must put in place the infrastructure or pipeline to bring the gas into their countries.

In other words, there is a potential for a cutoff in the future, but no cutoff at the present.

These two events–Charlie Hebdo and the Russian decision to cease delivering gas to Europe via Ukraine–should remind us that the potential for black swans, and unintended consequences of official decisions that can produce black swans, always exist. Not even the American “superpower” is immune from black swans.

There is as much circumstantial evidence that the CIA and French Intelligence are responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shootings as there is that the shootings were carried out by the two brothers whose ID was conveniently found in the alleged get-away car. As the French made certain that the brothers were killed before they could talk, we will never know what they had to say about the plot.

The only evidence we have that the brothers are guilty is the claim by the security forces. Every time I hear government claims without real evidence, I remember Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Assad’s “use of chemical weapons,” and Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”

If a US National Security Advisor can conjure up out of thin air “mushroom clouds over an American city,” Cherif and Said Kouachi can be turned into killers. After all, they are dead and cannot protest.

If this was, and we will never know for certain, a false flag attack, it achieved Washington’s goal of reuniting Europe under Washington and Israeli auspices. But this success has an unintended consequence. The unintended consequence is to unify Europe under the anti-immigration policy of the right-wing parties, thus empowering the leaders of those parties.

If this surmise is correct, Marie Le Pen and Nigel Farage will find their lives and/or reputations in danger as Washington will resist the rise of European governments that do not adhere to Washington’s line.

The consternation caused by Russia’s decision to relocate its gas delivery to Europe is proof that Russia holds many cards that Russia could play that would bring down the political and financial structures of the Western World.

China holds similar cards.

The two countries are not playing their cards, because they do not think that they need them. Instead, the two powers are withdrawing from the Western financial system that serves Western hegemony over the world. They are creating all of the economic institutions that they need in order to be completely independent of the West.

Therefore, the Russian and Chinese governments reason, “Why be provocative and slap down the Western fools. They might resort to their nuclear weapons, and the entire world would be lost. Let’s just walk away while they encourage us to depart with their provocations.”

We can be thankful that Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Chinese government are both intelligent and humane, unlike Western leaders.

Imagine, for example, the dire consequences for the West if Putin were to become personally involved as a result of the numerous affronts to both Russia and Putin himself. Putin can destroy NATO and the entire Western financial system whenever he wants. All he has to do is to announce that as NATO has declared economic war against Russia, Russia no longer sells energy to NATO members.

The NATO alliance would dissolve as Europe cannot survive without Russian energy supplies. Washington’s empire would end.

Putin realizes that the insolent neoconservatives would have to push the nuclear button in order to save face. Unlike Putin, their egos are on the line. Thus, Putin saves the world from nuclear war by not being provocative.

Now, imagine if the Chinese government were to lose its patience with Washington. To confront the “exceptional, indispensable, unipower” with the reality of its impotence, all China needs to do is to dump its massive dollar-denominated financial assets on the market, all at once, just as the Federal Reserve’s bullion bank agents dump massive uncovered gold contracts on the future’s market.

In order to avoid US financial collapse, the Federal Reserve would have to print massive amounts of new dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings. As the Federal Reserve would protect US financial markets by purchasing the dumped Chinese holdings, the Chinese would lose nothing from the sale. It is the next step that is decisive. The Chinese government then dumps the massive holdings of dollars it has received from its selloff of dollar-dominated financial instruments.

Now what happens? The Fed can print dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings, but the Fed cannot print foreign currencies with which to buy up the dumped dollars.

The massive supply of dollars dumped in the exchange market by China would have no takers. The dollar’s value would collapse. Washington could no longer pay its bills by printing money. Americans living in an import-dependent country, thanks to jobs offshoring, would be faced with high prices that would seriously erode their living standard. The United States would experience economic, social, and political instability.

Putting aside their brainwashing, their defensiveness and patriotic support of the regime in Washington, Americans need to ask themselves: How is it possible that the government of the United States, an alleged Superpower, is so unaware of its true vulnerabilities that Washington is capable of pushing two real powers until they have had enough and play the cards that they hold?

Americans need to understand that the only thing exceptional about the US is the ignorance of the population and the stupidity of the government.

What other country would let a handful of Wall Street crooks control its economic and foreign policy, run its central bank and Treasury, and subordinate citizens’ interests to the interests of the one percent’s pocketbook?

A population this insouciant is at the total mercy of Russia and China.

Yesterday there was a black swan event, an event that could yet unleash other black swan events. The Swiss central bank announced an end to its pegging of the Swiss franc to the euro and US –

Three years ago flight from euros and dollars into Swiss francs pushed the exchange value of the franc so high that it threatened the existence of the Swiss export industries. Switzerland announced that any further inflows of foreign currencies into francs would be met by creating new francs to absorb the inflows so as not to drive up the exchange rate further. In other words, the Swiss pegged the franc.

Yesterday the Swiss central bank announced that the peg was off. The franc instantly rose in value. Stocks of Swiss export companies fell, and hedge funds wrongly positioned incurred major hits to their solvency.

Why did the Swiss remove the peg? It was not a costless action. It cost the central bank and Swiss export industries substantially.

The answer is that the EU attorney general ruled that it was permissible for the EU central bank to initiate Quantitative Easing–that is, the printing of new euros–in order to bail out the mistakes of the private bankers.

This decision means that Switzerland expects to be confronted with massive flight from the euro and that the Swiss central bank is unwilling to print enough new Swiss francs to maintain the peg. The Swiss central bank believes that it would have to run the printing press so hard that the basis of the Swiss money supply would explode, far exceeding the GDP of Switzerland.

The money printing policy of the US, Japan, and apparently now the EU has forced other countries to inflate their own currencies in order to prevent the rise in the exchange value of their currencies that would curtail their ability to export and earn foreign currencies with which to pay for their imports. Thus Washington has forced the world into printing money.

The Swiss have backed out of this system. Will others follow, or will the rest of the world follow the Russians and Chinese governments into new monetary arrangements and simply turn their backs on the corrupt and irredeemable West?

The level of corruption and manipulation that characterizes US economic and foreign policy today was impossible in earlier times when Washington’s ambition was constrained by the Soviet Union. The greed for hegemonic power has made Washington the most corrupt government on earth.

The consequence of this corruption is ruin.

“Leadership passes into empire. Empire begets insolence. Insolence brings ruin.”

Ruin is America’s future.

 

Post Scriptum:

And, what about Russia’s Future:

Russia Just Pulled Itself Out Of Petrodollar

Back in November, before most grasped just how serious the collapse in crude was (and would become, as well as its massive implications), independent analytics wrote “How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed“, because for the first time in almost two decades, energy-exporting countries would pull their “petrodollars” out of world markets in 2015.

This empirical death of Petrodollar followed years of windfalls for oil exporters such as Russia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Much of that money found its way into financial markets, helping to boost asset prices and keep the cost of borrowing down, through so-called petrodollar recycling.

They added that in 2014 “the oil producers will effectively import capital amounting to $7.6 billion. By comparison, they exported $60 billion in 2013 and $248 billion in 2012, according to the following graphic based on BNP Paribas calculations.”

pd1

The problem was compounded by its own positive feedback loop: as the last few weeks vividly demonstrated, plunging oil would lead to a further liquidation in foreign  reserves for the oil exporters who rushed to preserve their currencies, leading to even greater drops in oil as the viable producers rushed to pump out as much crude out of the ground as possible in a scramble to put the weakest producers out of business, and to crush marginal production. Call it Game Theory gone mad and on steroids.

Ironically, when the price of crude started its self-reinforcing plunge, such a death would happen whether the petrodollar participants wanted it, or, as the case may be, were dragged into the abattoir kicking and screaming.

It is the latter that seems to have taken place with the one country that many though initially would do everything in its power to have an amicable departure from the Petrodollar and yet whose divorce from the USD has quickly become a very messy affair, with lots of screaming and the occasional artillery shell.

As Bloomberg reports, Russia may ‘unseal its $88 billion Reserve Fund and convert some of its foreign-currency holdings into rubles, the latest government effort to prop up an economy veering into its worst slump since 2009.’

These are dollars which Russia would have otherwise recycled into US denominated assets. Instead, Russia will purchase even more Rubles and use the proceeds for FX and economic stabilization purposes.

“Together with the central bank, we are selling a part of our foreign-currency reserves,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in Moscow today. “We’ll get rubles and place them in deposits for banks, giving liquidity to the economy.

Call it less than amicable divorce, call it what you will: what it is, is Russia violently leaving the ranks of countries that exchange crude for US paper.

More:

Russia may convert as much as 500 billion rubles from one of the government’s two sovereign wealth funds to support the national currency, Siluanov said, calling the ruble “undervalued.” The Finance Ministry last month started selling foreign currency remaining on the Treasury’s accounts.

The entire 500 billion rubles or part of the amount will be converted in January-February through the central bank, according to Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev. The Bank of Russia will determine the timing and method of the operation.

The ruble, the world’s second-worst performing currency last year, weakened for a fourth day, losing 1.3 percent to 66.0775 against the dollar by 3:21 p.m. in Moscow. It trimmed a drop of as much as 2 percent after Siluanov’s comments. The ruble’s continued slump this year underscores the fragility of coordinated measures by Russia’s government and central bank that steered the ruble’s rebound from a record-low intraday level of 80.10 on Dec. 16. OAO Gazprom and four other state-controlled exporters were ordered last month to cut foreign-currency holdings by March 1 to levels no higher than they were on Oct. 1. The central bank sought to make it easier for banks to access dollars and euros while raising its key rate to 17 percent, the emergency level it introduced last month to arrest the ruble collapse.

Today’s announcement “looks ruble-supportive, as together with state-driven selling from exporters it would support FX supply on the market,” Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States at ING Groep NV in Moscow, said by e-mail. “Also, it will be helpful for banks, while there might be some negative effects related to extra money supply and risks of using some of the money on the FX market for short-term speculations.

Bloomberg’s dready summary of the US economy is generally spot on, and is to be expected when any nation finally leaves, voluntarily or otherwise, the stranglehold of a global reserve currency. What Bloomberg failed to account for is what happens to the remainder of the Petrodollar world. Here is what researches said last time:

Outside from the domestic economic impact within EMs due to the downward oil price shock, we believe that the implications for financial market liquidity via the reduced recycling of petrodollars should not be underestimated. Because energy exporters do not fully invest their export receipts and effectively ‘save’ a considerable portion of their income, these surplus funds find their way back into bank deposits (fuelling the loan market) as well as into financial markets and other assets. This capital has helped fund debt among importers, helping to boost overall growth as well as other financial markets liquidity conditions.

[T]his year, it is to expect that incremental liquidity typically provided by such recycled flows will be markedly reduced, estimating that direct and other capital outflows from energy exporters will have declined by USD253bn YoY. Of course, these economies also receive inward capital, so on a net basis, the additional capital provided externally is much lower. This year, it is to expect that net capital flows will be negative for EM, representing the first net inflow of capital (USD8bn) for the first time in eighteen years. This compares with USD60bn last year, which itself was down from USD248bn in 2012. At its peak, recycled EM petro dollars amounted to USD511bn back in 2006. The declines seen since 2006 not only reflect the changed global environment, but also the propensity of underlying exporters to begin investing the money domestically rather than save. The implications for financial markets liquidity – not to mention related downward pressure on US Treasury yields – is negative.

Considering the wildly violent moves we have seen so far in the market confirming just how little liquidity is left in the market, and of course, the absolutely collapse in Treasury yields, with the 30 Year just hitting a record low, this prediction has been borne out precisely as expected.

And now, one should await to see which other country will follow Russia out of the Petrodollar next, and what impact that will have not only on the world’s reserve currency, on US Treasury rates, and on the most financialized commodity as this chart demonstrates:

pd2

… but on what is most important to developed world central planners everywhere: asset prices levels, and specifically what happens when the sellers emerge into what is rapidly shaping up as the most illiquid market in history.

 

First published by 4th Media, under title: “Ruin is America’s Future: Swiss Central Bank Announced End to Its Pegging of the Swiss Franc to Euro and US Dollar”

Energy

Gazprom and Europe

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Football in the 21st Century is not only a sport but a global brand in itself. Football allows others to feed and profit off of it as well. Global corporations have used this opportunity to leverage into newer markets and, or, improve their reputation in existing markets.

Gazprom; it is on players’ jerseys in Germany, in Russia, in Serbia, at games in England, and on side-lines in Italy. Gazprom is a Russian natural gas company. Teams make money offering jersey space to sponsors selling things like credit cards, cars, insurance companies and cell phones. But Gazprom is not like most sponsors: private companies with products football fans can buy. Instead, it is a company owned by the Russian government that makes money selling natural gas to foreign countries. It is everywhere in European football. So, if football fans cannot buy what they’re selling, why is Gazprom spending millions to sponsor games?

The answer is part of a larger story that’s changing the sport. Gazprom’s partnership with these clubs is mutually beneficial because they provide a crucial revenue stream to the football club while in turn gaining publicity and a foothold in key target markets in which they are hoping for an increasing profit margins they represent a successful confident company that yields significant power and influence.

It is a corporation that reflects the values and ambitions of the Russian state the company via a series of commercial partnerships and high-profile sponsorship deals is now firmly in the collective conscience of European football fans few are quite sure whatthe company stands for or what this foothold means and in any case they are largely apathetic which oddly mirrors the aims of Vladimir Putin and increased influence in Western culture becoming a major player in events without the stigma of political connections or ulterior motives. Foreign countries use companies they own to burnish their reputations abroad, and to understand why Russia is involved, one needs to closely observe a  map. Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves and most of the mare located in Arctic gas fields controlled by Gazprom. The company is led by Alexey Miller, a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Since 2005, the Russian government has owned a majority stake in Gazprom. Meaning company profits are under Putin’s control and gas sales, along with oil,account for around 40% of Russia’s annual budget.

Various maps showcase how European countries are on Russian gas and Eastern European countries are more dependent than countries further west. At the end of the 20th century, Germany represented the biggest opportunity for Gazprom. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had announced plans to phase out coal and nuclear power, which meant Germany would need more natural gas to maintain their energy supply. Gazprom wanted to get it to them, but there was a problem. To get to Germany, Russia’s gas needed pass to through pipelines crossing countries charging Gazprom transport fees. And most of them went through Ukraine, a country that has a complicated relationship with Russia. Today, Ukraine still charges Russia $2-3 billion dollars every year to pump gas through to Europe. So, starting back in 2005, Russia began working on a strategy to bypass Ukraineand ship their gas directly to Western Europe.

This led to the birth of the Nord Stream pipeline,  a route through The Baltic Sea straight to Northern Germany.In late 2005, Gazprom was in the final stages of financing the project and Germany’s chancellor was preparing for an election. During his time in office, Gerhard Schroeder had become friendly with Putin and critics in Germany were increasingly concerned about the Russian leader’s growing influence.

Just a few weeks before the election, Schroeder met with Putinto sign an agreement officially approving the pipeline. Two months later, Schroeder lost his re-election but by March he had found a new job: overseeing Gazprom’s pipeline to Germany. It also came out that, before leaving office, Schroeder had approved a secret Gazprom loan that provided over a billion euros to finance the project. Soon, the story of Gazprom’s big project in Germany was becoming a story of scandal, corruption, and the creeping influence of Russia. But then the story changed.

In 2006, Gazprom signed a deal to sponsor the German team FC Schalke 04.At the time, Schalke’s finances were worrying team officials and Gazprom’s sponsorship provided money the team desperately needed. At a press conference announcing the deal, a Gazprom chairman said Schalke’s connections with the German energy sector were why they decided to become their sponsor. Schalke plays in Gelsenkirchen – a town in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, where much of the country’s energy industry is based. It’s also close to the town of Rehden, a hub for pipelines to the rest of Europe and home to Western Europe’s largest natural gas storage facilities.

Interestingly, Schalke was not Gazprom’s first deal. The year before, they had bought a controlling stake in a team on the other end of the Nord Stream route: the Russian team Zenit St. Petersburg. Gazprom’s investment made Zenit a major force in soccer. Two years after taking control, Zenit won their first-ever league championship. They’ve been able to sign expensive foreign stars, like Belgian midfielder Axel Witseland the Brazilian forward Hulk, and Gazrpom uses Zenit for marketing stunts: like having players scrimmage on the side of their offshore gas platform.

In 2006, as Gazprom logos were revealed around Schalke’s stadium, German headlines were hailing the Russian gas giant for pumping millions into the German team. To celebrate the deal, Schalke’s new jersey was unveiled in a ceremony before Schalke and Zenit played a friendly match in Russia. And, over the next few years, the Gazprom logo would become a team symbol displayed at Schalke games and printed on official merchandise. Schalke also won a championship in 2011 and by then, Nord Stream had been completed, and that year, Gerhard Schroeder, Angela Merkel and other European officials gathered to celebrate as it began pumping gas to Germany. There was also another struggling team whose jerseys started featuring Gazprom’s logo: The Serbian team Red Star Belgrade. Red Star was about 25 million dollars in debt when Gazprom signed to become their jersey sponsor.

And, again, there was also another pipeline: The South Stream would have bypassed Ukraine by going directly through Serbia to Southern Europe. That project closed in 2014, but Gazprom has continued increasing their access to Europe by building Nord Stream 2, a second pipeline doubling the amount of gas flowing from Russia to Germany. Gazprom has also expanded their empire to include energy partnerships with Chelsea Football Club[1], Champions League and the sport’s most famous tournament: the FIFA World Cup.

These sponsorships have made Gazprom’s logo familiar not just to fans in Europe, but across the world.“We light up the football. Gazprom. Official partner.”It’s in commercials before games, and on jerseys and sidelines once it starts. FC Schalke fans have also started to see Nord Stream 2 ads at home games. And, while climate activists like Greenpeace have staged protests to point out Gazprom’s threat to Arctic resources, Gazprom had no trouble renewing their sponsorships.

Now, Russia controls nearly half the gas consumed by Europe and other countries are learning from their example. Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways all are owned by sovereign states in the Middle Eastwith interests that go beyond selling airline tickets. As the example of Gazprom shows, having a prominent footballing sponsorship offers a way around bad publicity by winning approval on the field. If you’re a fan, that can feel like a big opportunity: their money helps teams win major tournaments, but it’s starting to change the sport itself. Gazprom like so many others, is an opportunist who strives to be linked to sporting successes. Gazprom’s reasons for investing so heavily in sport could be compared to any global organization. It is a fascinating  means of advertising. It has become common to see a Serbian team sponsored by Russia’s gas company facing off against a French team sponsored by Dubai’s state-owned airline, it’s starting to seem like the field is hosting two competitions at once: A match between two teams, and a larger play for foreign influence that continues long after the final whistle.


[1] Owned byRoman Abramovich since 2012 seven years prior to this deal Abramovich sold his shares in Sibneft his oil-producing company to Gazprom for an estimated 10.4 Billion Euros.

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New oil pipeline in northern Thailand may worsen flooding

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A pipeline stretching from central to north-east Thailand promises to “promote Thailand as an energy hub in the region” and “increase energy security”, according to the Ministry of Energy. Construction began in mid-2019, despite local communities objecting that the largely Chinese-financed project could worsen flooding and contaminate water.

The 342km pipeline will run two metres underground and link Thailand’s north-eastern province of Khon Kaen to an existing pipeline in the central province of Saraburi. Energy Minister Sonthirat Sonthijirawong attended a ceremony on 5 February to lay the foundation of a 140 million litre oil tank in Khon Kaen’s Ban Phai district at the end of the pipeline.

Altogether, it will pass through 70 towns in five provinces including Lopburi, Nakhon Ratchasima and Chaiyaphum.

The route was agreed in August 2016, when the energy ministry signed a deal with the project investor, Thai Pipeline Network (TPN).

The ministry has promoted the pipeline as a more efficient means of transporting oil to the north-east, claiming it will lower oil prices and cut down on accidents involving road tankers.

TPN director Panu Seetisarn said the pipeline will avoid 88,000 road tanker journeys each year.

The THB9.2 billion (US$300 million) project is largely funded by a loan from the Chinese government, which stipulates that at least 35% of the equipment used must come from China. The precise details of the deal have not been made public. However, Panu revealed that TPN and undisclosed investors are investing about THB1 billion each.

The project has been progressing quickly since January last year when the government approved the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report.

In February, TPN – a subsidiary of Power Solution Technologies (PSTC) – signed a contract with China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering (CPP) to construct the pipeline within a 30-month period. And then works commenced in mid-2019.

Panu also revealed that the company wants to link the pipeline to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, and to southern China.

As well as the controversial north-eastern route, the first phase of another route, from central to north, is also under construction. The northern route is being developed with the ultimate aim of linking Tak province into Myanmar’s Kayin state at Myawaddy.

Flood risk

“This will lead to a big flood, bigger than the recent one,” said Ow, a local resident of Khon Kaen’s Ban Phai district, recalling flash flooding following tropical storm Podul that put homes under more than 1.5 metres of water for over a month last summer.

She fears the construction of an oil tank a few kilometres away will worsen flooding in future.

“Looking at its huge area and how high they have raised the land to level it for construction, [it] will definitely block all waterways,” she said, adding: “What will happen to us if there’s a big storm again?”

“After discussion with my neighbours, we [all] share the same concern and decided to file a complaint to the local authority but nothing happened,” said Ow.

The villagers’ concerns are justified, according to Jaroonpit Moonsarn, an environmental official at the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion (DEQP).

“There are two creeks, the Huay Bandoo and the Huay Khamrian, in the area that are natural waterways helping to drain waters in the district. The construction has blocked these significant waterways,” said Jaroonpit.

She believes another tropical storm in the area would create a bigger flood than the one last August.

Dust, pollution and public safety

Flooding is tomorrow’s fear, but dust is today’s suffering, said Ow, referring to air pollution caused by the construction of the oil tank that is affecting surrounding communities.

“We filed a complaint to the construction company, but they told us to complain and seek compensation from their subcontractors. It’s still unresolved. We don’t know who to talk to,” she said.

Jaroonpit also noted local concerns about the project once it’s finished, such as explosions, chemical contamination of local groundwater and heavy traffic. Road tankers will still be needed to distribute oil from the pipeline to nearby provinces, and additional tankers are expected to operate if the road to Laos is improved.

“Public safety should be seriously studied and discussed, including how to manage such risks and how to compensate,” she said.

“This involves the daily life of local people and they should have been informed clearly before the project’s construction approval, otherwise it leaves all the burden on them,” said Thawisan Lonanurak, former secretary general of the North-eastern Chamber of Commerce.

Apart from the risks to public safety, there are several basic questions about the project that need answering, according to Thawisan.

“Will oil prices in this area really be cheaper? How cheap? And most important, how transparent is the deal between the state and private investor?” Thawisan said.

“These questions should be answered at least during the EIA and hearing process, but it hasn’t happened,” he added.​

Witoon Kamonnarumet, senior advisor to the Khon Kaen Federation of Industry, said hearings for the EIA were conducted twice among a small group of people selected by the project owner and the company contracted to produce the EIA. They were not open to the general public.

“Even local businessmen in my network said they know very little about this project and are not clear on what it will really look like. We heard it would come two years ago and then there was a long silence and then construction started recently,” Witoon said.

“At the EIA hearing, most of the time was used for a company presentation focusing on what they had done in other areas,” said Paitoon Mahachuenjai, Nakhon Ratchasima’s Dan Khun Thod District head. They said that if there was “any problem during construction they would be ready to help,” he added.

Local activist Suwit Kularbwong, chairman of the Human Rights and Environment Association, said communities affected by the project have limited access to information about it.

“Where will the pipeline pass through exactly? How much area will be expropriated or compensated, and at what rate? They still don’t know. This goes against the [country’s] 2017 Constitution on public information and public participation for such a project,” Suwit said.

“This project has been initiated by the state and developed with a top-down approach, without sufficient consideration of its impacts, and with poor public participation. What will happen if more and more people along the pipeline know about the real impacts after construction and learn that they were not informed beforehand? Local opposition is foreseen. And government should be aware of this as it could affect the ongoing construction of the project,” he said.

Chinese investment and public discussion

Suwit said there is inadequate public awareness and discussion about projects and Chinese investment.

“The influence of Chinese investment in this region as well as the Mekong has been growing rapidly in recent years, without taking human rights violations and environmental impacts into account. And [it’s been] actively supported and facilitated by our Thai government.

“The key question is how ready are we for such massive investment from China? How ready is our government to protect its people’s interests from developments like this one where they are losing their land?” asked Suwit.

To address public concerns, Suwit suggested open public forums so that discussion could take place on the controversial oil pipeline and broader development plans for the north-eastern region.

“That which is missing from the past EIA process should be fixed there. At the forum, all basic project information should be available beforehand. It should be open to participation and discussion from all groups,” Suwit said.

Thawisan shared the same suggestion. “Local universities and academics should also play an important role to help digest technical and academic information for local people to understand the project properly,” he said.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

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How Turk Stream is forcing Europe on its heels

Sisir Devkota

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Russia laid down two gas pipelines from its territory, one from the topmost northern hemisphere, famously named as “Nord Stream” and the most advanced, latest with all rights “Turk Stream”; that passes through Turkey, a nation that now finds pride in being able to connect Russia with the rest of Europe. In recent years, European nations have heavily relied on American natural gas supplies and new set of renewables; while sanctions over Russia in the past decade primarily stalled business on both sides, Europe has now changed its language on Russia’s desire to sell oil to the continent. On paper, Europe is openly welcoming a new source of energy supplies in the name of profitable competition, yet changesare only the tip of deep lying geopolitical stakes. Turkstream was launched in the beginning of January; and so, did a brand-new Russian policy take effect that could change foreign relations in the years to come. But, why is Europe changing course suddenly?

Geographically, between the two pipelines on the north and south is Ukraine sitting ignored by Russia’s willingness, more so; it is also a statement of available options at Putin’s hand. It is well noted that Russian aspirations are serious; investing on two different routes has been costly, but the oil rich nation has caught all eyes. While Turkey is flaunting a newfound friendship on the East, other nations in the region, including Ukraine, are assessing exact Russian interests; a major miss out on economic benefits would not be rational for a set of other rather neutral nations than Ukraine. Consider the politics of language, while Nord Stream is still very vague and could include Baltic and western Scandinavia, “Turk Stream” is a prize won in the eyes of a shared Mediterranean neighborhood. It is like saying that Turkey won the rights to sell Russian reserves to European clients, that also have inhibitions against historical Turkish aspirations in the EU. Still, other reasons are held higher.

Uncharacteristically, China is behind all the insecurities in Europe. There is no secret on whether Sino-Russian ties could yield a similar energy route between two nations, both infrastructural might and President Xi’s willingness to expand the Belt & Road projects could easily accommodate energy linkups. For European leaders have realized that such possibilities could most possibly deteriorate Europe’s energy as well as economic balance. By 2030, Chinese energy needs are going to double from what it is now; Europe does not desire a vociferous Chinese demand taking away Russian reserves to the East. Alarmingly, European nations also realize that soon, a proposition as such is highly likely, given how current competition has taken down prices. After a decade of disturbing sanctions testing Russian sanctions, it will be waiting patiently for an overhaul in the form of ceiling new rate of prices. For Europe, America still might not have been redundant, but the US-Ukraine soft spot, certainly has.

The European dilemma does not end yet, for Russia has played the cards on both sides; it will have to forge a face-saving approach with Turkey, given how it has treated Ankara over issues relating to EU membership. Like an astute capitalist, Moscow is promising to feed Europe, whilst also biting into its wounds, forcing to deal with problems that may allow Russia an affirmation to jump over Chinese demands. On the backdrop of a successful Brexit, Turkey will be teasing at the European sanctity, a group that has continuously reminded it of being unsuitable. For Europe’s dislike, Russian reserves now flow through Turkish territories and might successfully ruin newly established competitors in the energy market. Underestimation has cost Europe again while Russia has lastly taken afoot. It is only the beginning of a grand Russian policy.

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