Threats to Energy Security May Change the Map

A recent Lloyd’s 360 report by Chatham House called “Sustainable Energy Security”, made the assertion that future challenges to meeting energy needs in the West are going to revolve around energy security. There are a number of issues that will contribute to these challenges, including cyber security, other national security issues, political upheaval and environmental initiatives.

Cyber Security Challenges

Threats to network security remain a prime concern for energy managers at every level, from retail delivery at fuel stations right to the top of governmental energy ministries. Security and information technology experts are scrambling to keep abreast of a rapidly changing landscape with regard to vulnerabilities that are open to exploitation. Arrayed against them are literal armies, as well as individuals and groups, with increasing knowledge and skills in this arena.

Certain groups like crime syndicates, Al Qaeda and Anonymous represent new threats previously seen on a much smaller scale, traditionally lone wolf hackers and small, loosely organized crime rings. Other, more obvious concerns are posed by governmental pursuit of deliberately directed and highly funded programs aimed at compromising the energy infrastructure in order to lower defensive capabilities.

Countries like China, Iran, Venezuela, Russia and Syria have embarked on ambitious projects to shut down dams and generators, seize control of energy management systems and cripple energy grids. The West is no slouch with such programs itself, as has been demonstrated with the viral destruction of Iran’s nuclear research program for a considerable period. Such destruction costs millions and can leave a country wide open for military or terrorist attack.

National Security

Some estimates have oil peaking at over 200 dollars a barrel in the near future. This would drive retail prices of gasoline and other consumer products to unprecedented levels. In the United States, there is the additional specter of inflation to deal with, from central banking policies such as unlimited money supply. These types of concerns place enormous pressures on societal ills like poverty and sluggish economies attempting to climb out of recession.

It is entirely conceivable that these pressures could result in civil unrest, even in traditionally stable societies such as the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. One widely accepted model holds that it requires 10 calories of infrastructure such as fertilizer, fuel, packaging and electricity to produce one calorie of food in the West.

Food prices could skyrocket along with energy costs. If people are unable to heat their homes, cook their food (or even purchase it) and lack access to hot water, tensions could boil over into frustrations and even rioting. In such a situation, not only is the social fabric of a country threatened, rivals could seek to exploit these conditions to their own military advantages.

Environmental Concerns

In accordance with United Nations Agenda 21 and other such environmental initiatives, there have been severe limitations on exploration and retrieval of fossil fuels like gas and oil. In addition, many coal producers such as Australia and Europe are seeking to eliminate coal production entirely in coming decades. These have been, and remain, the cheapest sources of energy available. At this point, solar and wind have proven incapable of taking up the slack.

No technological breakthroughs seem imminent that would change the shape of that curve, either. This means without significant technical development, such as piezoelectric harvesting or dramatic reduction in fossil energy requirements to produce solar components, oil and gas prices seem destined to rise sharply. Given the

statement by U.S. President Obama that “Under my plan, your electricity costs would necessarily skyrocket” this seems practically a certainty.

Political Upheaval

If these concerns are not addressed, the results could be devastating not only in the West, but for every region of the globe. When a country with large energy demands finds its energy supplies threatened, military action against neighboring countries can be the result. Political threats to energy security that can easily lead to such actions are evident in political terror movements. Others are not as obvious, but just as troublesome.

Entire political unions could find themselves in disarray. One such place is Europe, where the North controls not only energy production, but also holds to environmentalism as policy. This could result in fragile economies in Southern Europe being further hampered by high energy costs as production is scaled back in the North. Such a situation could easily result in changes of political leadership, with a corresponding fracture developing in the Union itself. Eastern Europe could be drawn back towards Russia to meet its requirements, affecting military alliances.

The United States, Mexico and Canada could find themselves in a situation where externally their economies are thriving due to energy exports, but because of high internal energy costs, their societies may undergo increasing stratification among various income levels. One solution conceivably could be the a North American Union being formed from the three countries to combine defense and trade. Such a proposal has been floated many times by economic and political leadership in each of those countries.

The logical outcome of such a union would be a drastic reduction in the liberties traditionally taken for granted in the United States, for instance in gun ownership, travel and relocation, all of which are limited in its immediate neighbors north and south. Such restrictions could easily lead to huge political unrest inside the U.S. with uncertain outcomes. For all its leadership and stability, the U.S. is designed to operate at the ragged edge of revolution in the best of times.

In South America, Brazil has shown surprising forethought by moving internal energy to alternative sources and reserving oil and gas for export. The economy has been on a sharply escalating curve in recent years as a result. Logically, many South American countries may be drawn into alliances with Brazil, or emulate their model. Unfortunately, if this leads to explosive growth in countries without the infrastructure to support it, mass starvation could be an ironic result of national wealth, along with large-scale deforestation or ecological damage of other kinds in sensitive habitats.

Asia is witnessing the rise of rivals like China, Singapore and India to challenge Japan’s historical economic leadership in that arena. Given traditional rivalries and huge militaries, this could present severe stability challenges there as well. Combined with the rising wealth and influence of nearby Muslim countries like Iran, clear conflicts begin to emerge, to say nothing of wholesale political changes like those undergone by Egypt and Libya.

While some solutions are presenting themselves, others will need to be sought out and developed. In some cases, new strategies will need to be designed from the ground up to meet these new energy security challenges. Regardless of whether these strategies are employed by government, industry or both, it seems clear that energy needs will be shaping the global map for well into the 21 st Century.