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U.S. Cries For African Oil

Heart Of Diamonds Blog, June, 2008

By Dave Donelson

Americans spend so much time fixated on oil in the Middle East that they generally pay little or no attention to sub-Saharan Africa, which supplies almost as much black gold to the U.S. as the Persian Gulf States. It’s also a region with just as much (if not more) danger of unexpected supply disruption. That’s largely what drove the establishment of AFRICOM, the new U.S. military administrative headquarters (one of six regional HQs worldwide) devoted solely to military relations with 53 African countries.

To put the region in perspective, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly 16% of U.S. daily oil imports in 2007, versus just under 18% for the Persian Gulf States and just over 18% for Canada according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On an individual country basis, here are our top five foreign suppliers and our daily purchases in thousands of barrels:

      • Canada 2243
      • Saudi Arabia 1487
      • Venezuela 1336
      • Mexico 1258
      • Nigeria 1131

Angola, with 507,000 barrels daily, ranks seventh, just behind Algeria. Chad, Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), and Equatorial Guinea are petroleum suppliers to the U.S. as well, along with minor players including South Africa, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa).

Nigeria is particularly vulnerable to disruption. Rebel groups opposed to President Umaru Yar'Adua have repeatedly destroyed oil pumping stations, pipelines, and other distribution facilities. The bold Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has sent militants in boats through heavy seas to attack the Bonga oil field more than 65 miles from land, temporarily shutting production of more than 200,000 barrels per day.

It is not just rebel groups that threaten the Nigerian supply, either. White-collar oil workers threatened to strike after talks between U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp. and the country's white-collar oil industry workers broke down recently. A walkout was averted, but the issues remain.

The other major situation the U.S. faces with its African oil supply is competition, especially from China. The Angolans supplied almost as much oil (465,000 barrels daily) to China as they did to the U.S. in 2007. That number will almost certainly go up. The Council on Foreign Relations points out

    “Beijing secured a major stake in future oil production in 2004 with a $2 billion package of loans and aid that includes funds for Chinese companies to build railroads, schools, roads, hospitals, bridges, and offices; lay a fiber-optic network; and train Angolan telecommunications workers.”

Angolan President Josť Eduardo dos Santos received his degree from the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute in the old USSR and served as his party’s (MPLA) representative to China shortly before becoming President. The U.S. has been able to deal with him, but he’s no particular friend. After his 29 years in office during which Angola has sunk to one of the world’s poorest and least-developed countries despite almost limitless oil, diamonds, and other resources, there’s no guarantee that the situation in the country will remain stable enough to assure the U.S. of continued supply.

With two of the top seven U.S. oil suppliers vulnerable to supply disruptions at any moment, is it any wonder that the American military presence in Africa is slated for the major expansion?