Under the Radar
Oil, terrorism and drugs intermingle in Colombia
Seventy U.S. Special Forces soldiers are training Colombians to protect an oil pipeline.
Japan's struggle to secure future oil supply
Energy dependent Japan looks to Iran for oil, causing tension with the U.S.
Chad-Cameroon pipeline project put to test
Will the pipeline, partially financed by the World Bank, improve the lot of Chad and Cameroon
or exacerbate existing corruption and strife?
Natural resource curse hits São Tomé
A tiny West African country illustrates a well known problem.
On the technology front
Fuel Cell Locomotive for Military and Commercial Railways
An international consortium is developing the world’s largest fuel cell vehicle, a 109 metric-ton, 1 MW locomotive.
Fuel cell power plant installed at NJ Sheraton
A stationary fuel cell will supply 250 kilowatts of electric power as well as heat to the Sheraton Edison
Hotel, accounting for about 25 percent of the hotel's electricity and hot water.
Fuel cell scooters for Europe and China
Palcan's fuel cell powered scooter is designed to address the world's need for a low-end mass transport vehicle.
U.S. Air Force
to get fuel cell bus
Fuel cell powered thirty-foot hybrid bus to be stationed at the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
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Oil, terrorism and drugs intermingle in Colombia
As part of efforts to diversify its oil supply the U.S. is intensifying its military
involvement in Colombia, the third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil
and Mexico. Colombia is one of Latin America's most unstable countries; an estimated
3,500 people, mostly civilians, are killed annually and thousands of others tortured and
extorted. Several guerrilla bands, left and right-wing, control about a third of the country
making about $600-700 million a year in cocaine-related protection profits.
Arauca province is a petroleum rich area in northeastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border.
In recent months, terrorist groups in this region - primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC)
and the National Liberation Army (ELN) - have attacked the first 75
miles of the 480-mile Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, notoriously known as "the flute." In
addition to attacks on the pipeline, the region has become Colombia's most violent province;
car bombings, assassination of government officials and forced displacement of rural
dwellers in untold numbers are a matter of routine. As with narcotics, terrorist groups use
oil to facilitate their violent activities. They
extort and threaten oil companies, sabotage their operations when payments fail to arrive,
and in other cases steal gasoline and sell it on the black market. The profits are used to
finance more of the same and fuel a decades-old conflict that has already cost Colombia
thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
Colombia is the third-largest
recipient of U.S. military aid, following Israel and Egypt. U.S. aid commenced under President
within the framework of Plan Colombia, intended to fight the drug
trade, but now part of this aid will be directed toward protection of oil facilities.
The threat to Colombia's oil prompted the Bush administration to initiate a pipeline
protection plan intended to train, equip, and assist two elite Colombian army battalions of up
to 800 soldiers to defend the pipeline against terror attacks.
About $140 million are likely to be allocated to provide munitions, equipment, and
training to the Colombian army in fiscal year 2004. Roughly seventy members of the
U.S. Army's 7th Special Forces Group are already in Arauca providing counter-insurgency
training to Colombian troops.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson recently stated that the pipeline plan
reached beyond the anti-narcotics mission to which the U.S. has been committed and that
it is, in fact, designed to increase U.S. energy security. "Colombia has the potential to
export more oil to the U.S, and now more than ever, it's important for us to diversify our
sources of oil," the ambassador said.
It is unclear whether Colombia's oil potential justifies the risk
of military involvement. Colombian crude
represents a mere two percent of total U.S. oil imports. The country has a potential
capacity of roughly 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) but pipeline attacks and natural
depletion of fields
reduced output to 600,000 bpd. Colombia's proven reserves of 1.8 billion barrels
amount to 0.2% of global reserves. Projections of potential reserves indicate that more oil
may be discovered but it is premature to assess whether Colombia may emerge as
a major oil supplier to the U.S.
U.S. military involvement in Colombia presents several risks. First, by attempting to
protect the oil pipeline, the U.S. risks being dragged into a conflict that is more complex
and deep-rooted than most people realize. This could be to the detriment of U.S. national
interest. Commanders of one of the main groups, the National Liberation Army, have already
called the presence of American troops an act of aggression and threatened to target them.
Second, troops from the Colombian Army's 18th Brigade in Arauca responsible for fighting
the terrorists with U.S. guidance have so far failed to bring peace and stability to the
region. On the contrary, many of them have been accused of having ties with the paramilitary
groups, being notoriously abusive, and violating fundamental rights of Arauca's
inhabitants. This could instill a sense of anti-Americanism among Colombia's impoverished
people who might identify the U.S. as an accomplice to these misdeeds.
Third, U.S. involvement in Colombia sets a dangerous precedent in terms of U.S. government
protection of U.S.-based firms'
overseas commercial interests. Forty-four percent of the shares
of Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline are held by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum.
U.S. companies operating in other restless global regions might demand similar federal
government protection. As it is, the U.S. military is employed in dozens of missions
throughout the world from Iraq to Afghanistan to Korea to the Balkans and cannot provide
protection services to oil companies under the guise of "guarding U.S. energy security
Despite all this, one underlying reason might justify U.S. military involvement in
Colombia: the country's
link to international terrorism. According to many reports the drug war has been folded into the war on
terror. "Narcotraffickers" are now "narcoterrorists," says Robert Kaplan, one of the
nation's leading foreign affairs journalists who was embedded with four different U.S. Army
Green Beret regiments in Colombia. During the 2003 Pitcairn Trust Lecture held
on April 9 at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Kaplan noted "some of the most violent parts of Colombia
are on the Venezuelan border, where President Hugo Chavez has given these criminal groups rear
bases while inviting Arab criminal and terrorist gangs into the islands off the Venezuelan
There have already been documented links between Colombian terrorist groups and terrorists based
elsewhere (specifically IRA,) and as Kaplan notes there are signs of a possible relationship
of convenience with Al Qaeda.
Kaplan says that the Colombian terrorists are
much more highly developed than many others in Latin America: "They are so inventive in
Colombia that they set up roadblocks where one must show ID so they can check your name
against a computer database, which can take days, to see if you are worth kidnapping."
Colombia is one of the classic cases of collapsed state in which terrorism, crime, drugs and
oil intertwine. Though its oil endowment is probably too small to be a major source of U.S.
oil, it should be closely watched; the U.S. cannot afford to let
Colombia turn into the western hemisphere's primary terrorist safe haven.
Protecting the Pipeline: The U.S. Military Mission Expands