PRAGUE, 24 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- One of the largest conferences to date to look at how to assure Western energy supplies in an increasingly uncertain security environment wrapped up in Prague today.
The forum, which brought together officials and experts from 32 countries, reflects the growing concern felt by producers and consumers alike at the vulnerability of energy supplies. The regular sabotage of oil pipelines in Iraq has demonstrated how supplies can be disrupted at source, while Russia's decision in the New Year to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine showed that politics, and not just war, can stop the flow of energy -- and that countries not even involved in the dispute can be affected.
When Moscow briefly reduced gas supplies in the pipeline that goes to Ukraine and on to Western Europe, consumers from Poland to Italy felt the effects.
Kevin Rosner, the co-director of the conference, says the "issue of energy security, however you define it, [whether] from a producer or consumer standpoint, is in many, many cases the most important national security issue facing both alliance members [and] partners."
All For One, And One For All?
Speaking in a personal capacity, Rosner says he feels the trans-Atlantic alliance must get involved in trying to help stabilize future energy supplies, and believes it could play a critical role in doing so. "NATO's strength…is the fact that it is a consultative body," Rosner says.
One of the subjects under discussion at the conference was a proposal to create a new alliance committing NATO and EU members to act in concert "in the face of any energy threat provoked by either a cut or a diminution of supply sources that may occur because of natural disasters, disruption of wide distribution and supply systems, or political decisions by suppliers."
Polish Deputy Minister of Economy Piotr Naimski, whose government put forward the proposal, said Warsaw would like to see such an alliance oblige the parties to help each other during an energy crisis just as they might in a time of military crisis, on a "all for one, one for all" principle.
However, as suggested by the name of the conference -- the NATO Forum on Energy Security Technology – delegates also looked beyond political issues to practical ways of making energy supplies more secure.
One of the topics of the three-day conference was how to protect key energy facilities from terrorist attacks. The conference heard that -- among efforts to secure energy supplies -- the United States is currently supplying radars to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to monitor security in the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea. The region, always a concern for security experts, is in the spotlight due to the current tensions over Iran's nuclear program. Iran is one of the five states that border the sea and the exact demarcation of borders in the sea and ownership of its resources remain in dispute. Such tensions have on occasion led to military confrontations.
Caspian Energy Special
For a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of energy issues in the Caspian Sea region and Russia, click here.
HOW MUCH OIL? The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that the Caspian could hold between 17 billion and 33 billion barrels of proven oil. ("Proven reserves" are defined by energy experts to be 90 percent probable.) Other experts estimate the Caspian could hold "possible reserves" of up to 233 billion barrels of oil. ("Possible reserves" are considered to be 50 percent probable.) By comparison, Saudi Arabia has 261 billion barrels of oil and the United States 23 billion...(more)