The Unocal connection 

Making the world safe for American oil

Two events occurred last week that probably seem unrelated to most people. First, a huge double-bladed Chinook helicopter carrying 16 highly trained U.S. Special Forces troops was knocked out of the air by an Afghani guerrilla fighter, killing everyone on board. Then the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging President Bush to block the sale of the giant American oil company Unocal Corp. to CNOOC, a Chinese energy conglomerate. The connection, like so many connections in this wage-war-for-oil administration, is who will control a proposed pipeline that would deliver oil and gas to feed the burgeoning industrialization of India and China. To those who have been following Bush’s oil-war progression, Unocal and Afghanistan are not new topics of discussion. Way back in 1997, Unocal put together an international coalition of energy companies with the goal of building a pipeline to carry Central Asia’s gas and oil reserves to market. In his testimony before Congress in 1998, John J. Maresca, Unocal’s Vice President for International Relations, put it this way:

“The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves….Proven natural gas reserves within Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil… Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels.

By 2010, Western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day (Mb/d)—an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about five percent of the world’s total oil production, and almost 20 percent of oil produced among non-OPEC countries.

One major problem has yet to be resolved: how to get the region’s vast energy resources to the markets where they are needed.”

Unocal’s solution, as Maresca testified, is to build a pipeline to carry those oil and gas reserves. “One obvious potential route south would be across Iran. However, this option is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route option is across Afghanistan, which has its own unique challenges.

The 1,040-mile-long oil pipeline would begin near the town of Chardzhou, in northern Turkmenistan, and extend southeasterly through Afghanistan to an export terminal that would be constructed on the Pakistan coast on the Arabian Sea. Only about 440 miles of the pipeline would be in Afghanistan.

Only one problem, Afghanistan was neither stable nor friendly toward Western capitalist interests. As Maresca told Congress: “The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades. The territory across which the pipeline would extend is controlled by the Taliban, an Islamic movement that is not recognized as a government by most other nations. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of our proposed pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company.”

Regardless of Maresca’s Congressional testimony, money speaks louder than morals in the international energy arena and Unocal went on to hold talks with the Taliban, seeking permission to build the pipeline. But before 1998 ended, American cruise missiles were landing on Osama bin Laden’s base in Afghanistan. The very next day Unocal announced that it was abandoning its plans for the pipeline until the Afghan government was recognized by the U.S.

As we now know—and as perhaps Bush’s inner oil coterie knew some time ago—a full-blown American invasion to topple the Taliban government and install the Western puppet government of Hamid Karzai was in Afghanistan’s near future. Last week’s downing of the Chinook, and the subsequent loss of American soldiers, was just another tragic episode in the continuing efforts to attain Unocal’s desire to have “a recognized government in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company.” In other words, to bring Afghanistan under U.S. control.

The problem is that Afghanistan’s government is far from under control. By all accounts, the Taliban are resurgent, the insurrection is growing, and Afghanistan, like Iraq, appears to be more of a political, military and fiscal quagmire every day.

When Unocal Corp. went up for sale, American energy giant Chevron made a purchase bid of $16.5 billion. But wouldn’t you know it? Along comes China’s CNOOC with a bid of $18.5 billion.

Suddenly, faced with the Chinese offer, “free trade” and all the other “global marketplace” hypocrisies our country conveniently employs when they serve our purpose went down the tubes. Congress steps in and votes 398-15 to urge Bush to kill the Unocal sale to China’s CNOOC as a matter of “national security”—the handy blanket they pull over their heads whenever they need to hide their real motives from the citizens.

Meanwhile President Bush, Big Energy’s own puppet government, encourages the people of this country to “stay the course” under the fairy tale that we’re killing and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq in a quest to “democratize the Middle East.” But here’s the real deal—we’re in these wars, as we have been in so many other wars, for considerably less lofty goals.

We can bury our dead, mourn the fiscal destruction of our nation’s treasury, and somehow try to regain our stature in the world. But China’s attempt to buy Unocal reinforces the theory that we invaded and toppled existing governments by force of arms primarily to pave the way for energy corporations to make billions selling foreign petroleum.

Despite Bush propaganda to the contrary, Congress’ latest actions seem to reinforce America’s “blood for oil” crusade and the goal of enriching, as Unocal’s Maresca said, “Western companies”—not our global competitors, the Chinese.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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