Daniel Yergin is one of the most informed and perceptive energy analysts in the world. His recently released book titled The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World is a densely packed political and economic history lesson. It is a worthy follow-on to one of the most dogeared and frequently reread books on my library shelves The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. Yergin wrote that volume in 1991, at the time of the first Gulf War. The book earned the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a PBS miniseries.
Page 289-290 of The Quest contains a disturbing story worth sharing widely. In 2004, following a long period in which the official policy of Al Qaeda discouraged attacks on energy systems, a new strategy was published. Titled “The Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests and a Review of the Laws Pertaining to Economic Jihad”, the strategy officially encouraged operations that would drive up the price of oil.
Several months later, Bin Laden, embracing this new doctrine, urged attacks on oil targets as part of an economic jihad against the United States. He cited the war in Afghanistan, which had “bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in defeat” and called for the same kind of policy “to make the US bleed profusely to the point of bankruptcy.” He later declared that the West sought to dominate the Middle East in order to steal oil and urged his adherents “to give everything you can to stop the greatest theft of oil in history.” He called for terror attacks that would drive oil to $100 a barrel with the aim of bankrupting the United States. In 2005 Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy declared that the mujahedeen should “focus their attacks on the stolen oil of the Muslims,” in order to “save this resource” for the time when an Al Qaeda caliphate would rule the Arabian Peninsula.
A raid in September 2005 on a safe house near the largest Saudi oil field discovered the practical tools for this new doctrine: charts and maps for the oil infrastructure not only of Saudi Arabia but of the other Gulf Arab oil producing as well. The Saudis were taken aback by how detailed the information was.
I know there are people who are certain that a portion of the motivation for antinuclear activity is a suicidal desire to push the US back into an era of energy starvation. What I am trying to point out here is that there is an organized group of attackers who have openly declared their intention to attack the means of energy production and allow the resulting high energy prices to destroy the US economy.
While many do not recognize the interwoven nature of energy and do not believe that nuclear energy is a fungible replacement for petroleum, that is simply not true. The behavior of the world’s LNG and diesel fuel markets in the six months since an irrational, media-motivated response to the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami substantially reduced the world’s nuclear energy output should be evidence enough that oil consumption, liquified natural gas consumption and nuclear energy output are closely related.
There is little doubt that the decision makers in the continuing battle against the United States and its allies recognize that it is just as effective to attack energy production facilities via negative news media stories and political action as it is to attack them with more physical weapons.
It also happens to be less risky and easier to organize because they recognize the existence of unwitting allies who stand ready to provide their full support when the energy production means under attack use uranium fission instead of petroleum or natural gas combustion. As history continues to show, our enemies are quite skillful at using of weapons of opportunity.