As conventional oil is in decline the governments look for alternatives: tar sands, shale gas, etc. There are however several problems with these alternatives: their very production is costly in greenhouse emissions.
Some governments are so desperate for cheap oil to continue for a decade or two longer for their country that they are willing to go to war to realise this. The first Iraq war – to liberate Kuwait or to reinstall an undemocratic monarchy, depending on your views – secured Kuwait’s oil flowing to the West.
The second Iraq war – the toppling of Saddam Hussain – secured the flow of Iraqi oil and permanent US military bases in Iraq. As the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, admitted the Iraq war was about oil. Or as US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, put it in Singapore, 31 May-1 June, 2003. "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil." The toppling of the Gaddafi regime in Libya also happened in an oil producing country.
Afghanistan does not have oil but as the US Department of Energy’s own report on Afghanistan from September 2001 said:
"Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, which was under serious consideration in the mid-1990s. The idea has since been undermined by Afghanistan's instability. Since 1996, most of Afghanistan has been controlled by the Taliban movement, which the United States does not recognize as the government of Afghanistan".
Few government will obviously openly admit that they go to war or prepare for war to secure oil supplies – although the Carter Doctrine, declared in 1980, made it plain that US military might would be applied to the project of dominating the world’s oil wealth, so any hostile effort on the flow of Persian Gulf oil would be regarded as an “assault on the vital interests of the United States” and would be “repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Iran has the second largest conventional oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. According to the press the US, Israel and the UK are currently (November 2011) considering the bombing of Iran’s nuclear installations.
Next to the Middle East, the Caspian Sea region contains perhaps the world’s largest untapped reserves of both oil and natural gas. The US has built 19 new military bases in the Caspian region.
There is of course nothing new in having conflicts over resources. During WWII both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan invaded countries to secure oil supplies – and the Allies (successfully) tried to cut off those supply lines. However, the conflict does not always have to involve the invasion of foreign troop into an oil producing country.
When the US supported Israel in its war with the Arab countries in October 1973 the Arab countries imposed an oil embargo against the US, which created fuel shortages in the US for four months and effectively drove up crude oil prices fourfold, which in turn created the worst economic recession since the 1930s.
When Venezuela elected a leftwing president - who passed a series of laws that increased the government’s share of revenue from the export of Venezuela’s huge oil production - a US-inspired coup overthrow the president on April 11, 2002 - but a counter-coup took place three days later.
For nearly 40 years, oil giants like Shell, Mobil and Chevron have worked in joint ventures with Nigeria’s dictatorships to exploit the country’s vast petroleum resources, often against the wishes of the local communities of the oil rich Niger delta. Protest against these oil giants has often resulted in a bloody response from their military business partners.
On November 10, 1995, Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, hanged Ogoni activist and playwright Ken Saro-wiwa and 8 others. They were convicted by a kangaroo military court of murder. But their real crime was protesting the presence of Shell oil on their land and the oil giants support for the military junta.
A Chevron official acknowledged that on May 28, 1998, the company transported Nigerian soldiers to their Parabe oil platform and barge in the Niger Delta, which dozens of community activists had occupied. The protesters were demanding that Chevron contribute more to the development of the impoverished oil region where they live. Soon after landing in Chevron-leased helicopters, the Nigerian military shot to death two protesters.
Future oil conflicts could be for access to the oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, containing an estimated 20% of oil reserves.