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Shale Gas Will Transform Geopolitics

Feb 12, 2013
  • Wu Sike

    Member on Foreign Affairs Committee, CPPCC

The United States announced in this year’s annual energy forecast that its natural gas exports in 2027 would reach 1.6 trillion cubic feet, doubling last year’s forecast. The energy forecast also predicts that the US will become a net exporter of natural gas by the year 2020 instead of the previously projected 2022.

The US has led the rest of the world in the development of shale gas technology. Last April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a proposal by an American liquefied natural gas (LNG) energy company to export LNG abroad. The approval, the first of its kind in 40 years, was a landmark for the United State’s shale gas revolution, signaling that the country had turned itself from an importer of energy to a major exporter.

A clean and less expensive form of energy, shale gas is expected to become a major energy source for the world. A review of history indicates that a major change in energy structure often triggers a new round of economic development. For the United States, shale gas exploration will help pull its manufacturing industry out of recession and give a strong boost to the economic recovery.

While watching how the US economy will recover, this writer, as a diplomat who has over 40 years of experience in the Middle East, believes that the US-initiated shale gas revolution will not only change the global landscape of energy distribution but will also change the world’s geopolitical layout. The United States will take a more dominant position in the global energy distribution. With that in mind, observers will certainly watch how the US will adjust its global strategy, especially its Middle East policy, and ponder what kind of a situation other energy-consuming nations will face in terms of energy safety.

In 2012, the Middle East witnessed complicated changes: regimes changed and chaos spread from country to country. While controversial issues kept heating up, some religious forces took the opportunity to extend their influence. The region’s political landscape changed as tussles between major powers intensified. The Arab Spring that originated in Tunis and Egypt is influencing and changing the Middle East. The unrest has fundamentally changed the region’s political eco-system and brought drastic impact to the international patterns.

Through my experience, I believe the region will enter a period of continuous unrest. Seeking changes amidst unrest and hoping for stability will be the main characteristics of this period. With the influence of the Arab Spring spreading wider, regional unrest has been intensified by power struggles on deeper levels. Various forces in and outside the region are influencing power struggles in the region. Bringing a balance to the region’s internal conflicts and enhancing the local people’s ability to handle regional affairs on their own are the most pressing matters for the Middle East, if countries want to stabilize and promote the healthy development of their politics and economy.

In particular, the Gulf area deserves attention, which remains insulated from unrest in the Middle East and changes in the Arab world. Since revolutions began in the Middle East, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) has paid close attention to the regional issues that matter greatly to GCC countries and worked to stabilize the region. These efforts greatly promoted the Gulf countries’ position in the Arab world in terms of politics, foreign diplomacy, security and economy.

Like Central Asia, Russia and Africa, the Gulf region is an important supplier of the world’s traditional source of energy – oil. During the beginning of the Arab Spring, Gulf countries maintained a high level of petroleum production, playing a vital role in keeping a balanced, global supply of energy while stabilizing the price of oil.

However, as unrest in the Middle East continues and US shale gas technologies become commercialized, the global landscape of energy resources will change and the United States will become less and less reliant on Middle Eastern oil, until this reliance finally ends. The development of this technology will have an insurmountable impact on the Middle East, the global economy and the world’s geopolitical map.

In the future, global energy supply will become multi-sourced. With the exploration of shale gas and other new sources of energy, the balance of energy resources will definitely shift. This change will matter most to China and the United States, the world’s number one and number two energy consumers respectively. China is working to establish a new type of power relationship with other major powers based upon the idea of cooperation and mutual trust.

Fostering cooperation while exploring shale gas and other energy resources is of vital importance to the United States and China. Maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East is also a common interest of both countries. There is a great deal both countries can achieve through cooperation, which will help bring about the balanced development of the world economy and global geopolitical stability.

Wu Sike is a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affair.


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