The Geopolitics of Energy Project explores the intersection of energy, security and international politics. The project aims to improve our understanding of how energy demand and supply shape international politics and inform policymakers and students about major challenges to global energy security. The current research focuses on three major areas: the geopolitics of natural gas, the Middle East and energy, and national oil companies.
The Geopolitics of Natural Gas
Some of the most dramatic energy developments of recent years have been in the realm of natural gas. Huge quantities of unconventional U.S. shale gas are now commercially viable, changing the strategic picture for the United States by making it self-sufficient in natural gas for the foreseeable future. This development alone has reverberated throughout the globe, causing shifts in patterns of trade and leading other countries in Europe and Asia to explore their own shale gas potential. Such developments are putting pressure on longstanding arrangements, such as oil-linked gas contracts and the separate nature of North American, European, and Asian gas markets, and may lead to strategic shifts, such as the weakening of Russia’s dominance in the European gas market.
Against this backdrop, Harvard’s Geopolitics of Energy Project has launched a two-year study on the geopolitical implications of natural gas. The project is partnering with Rice University in this endeavor, bringing together experts from academia and industry to explore the potential for new quantities of conventional and unconventional natural gas reaching global markets in the years ahead. The effort will drawn on nearly a dozen country experts of producer and consumer countries who will assess the prospects for gas consumption and production in the country in question, based on anticipated political, economic, and policy trends. Drawing on these case studies, the project will formulate different scenarios and use a global gas model to assess the cumulative impact of country-specific changes on the global gas market and geopolitics more broadly.
The Middle East and Energy
Since the discovery of oil in Persia in 1908, the Middle East has been central to energy. For decades, a mainstay of U.S. foreign policy was tolerance of and support for undemocratic regimes in exchange for commitments to maintain access to oil at reasonable prices. The events of September 11, 2001 challenged this “compact” between many Middle Eastern regimes and the United States; the overthrow of Saddam and now the events of the Arab Spring are reshaping the politics of the region. U.S. energy diplomacy in the Middle East remains important, but its contours are much more uncertain. The Arab Spring threatens to bring with it not only production disruptions, but more unpredictable politics and greater resource nationalism.
Over time, the Harvard Geopolitics of Energy Project aims to examine the multitude of ways in which changes in the Middle East will shape the future of energy. Currently, its work is focused on Iraq, exploring how the political prospects of that country are inherently connected to its ability to reach its energy potential. Beyond assessing these linkages, the project is assessing how Iraq’s efforts to resuscitate its oil industry could allow Baghdad to re-establish its regional presence, could challenge decades-old patterns of interaction in the Middle East, and might threaten the viability or efficacy of institutions such as OPEC.
National Oil Companies and Energy Diplomacy
This research study examines the rise and influence of national oil companies in global energy politics. In a first step, the study examines the political and economic factors driving the transformation of the global oil industry and the shifts in market power that led to the rise of national oil companies. A second part of the study explores the business-government relations of key national oil companies to better understand their political role in global oil and gas politics. The focus lies on the interaction of national oil companies and their home governments in shaping the energy diplomacy of major emerging powers. Key producer and consumer countries have been supporting the international expansion of their national oil companies through various diplomatic and financial means. The conventional notion is that such neo-mercantilist strategies are conceived by state elites and serve purposes of energy security. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that national oil companies are engaging closely with home governments in developing foreign energy policy. This project aims to examine whether and, if so, how national oil companies contribute to shaping the energy diplomacy of their home governments.