Smoking oil drum and pipeline

Big Oil has long acted as if it were above the law. Now it actually is. Proof of that is known as Executive Order 13303, quietly signed by President George W. Bush last May and only barely reported in August.

No major media in this country or abroad paid it much heed. Take a look at what the order does and then decide for yourself if it gives the oil industry special status.

Executive Order 13303 bars operation of the judicial process with regard to the Development Fund for Iraq and “all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests.”

Section one of the order protects these interests “of any nature whatsoever” if the issue “arises from” or is “related to” the “sale or marketing of all Iraqi petroleum products that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.”

Section three of the order confirms that the term “persons” includes corporations. In short, the order removes all U.S. corporations involved in the Iraqi oil business, no matter how indirectly, from the scrutiny and regulation of the law.

Richard Calland, writing in a publication called Contretemps, commented: “That means all corporate activities with roots or any connection to Iraqi oil. It includes commerce such as plastics in the petrochemical industry or anything else for which Iraqi oil becomes relevant, thus blending Iraqi oil with domestic supplies or industry.”

Bush’s order covers everything from extraction of the oil through to transportation, advertising, manufacture, customer service, corporate records and payment of taxes.

The Government Accountability Project reports: “the executive order cancels the concept of corporate accountability and abandons the rule of law. Translated from the legalese, this is a license for corporations to loot Iraq and its citizens.”

This order makes the oil industry exempt from a whole range of liability issues from health and safety violations to shareholder accountability and a host of other items. U.S. companies like Bechtel and Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s old firm, enjoy a double helping of goodies. Both are holding fat post-invasion contracts for rebuilding Iraq. Now they are immune from the entire system of administrative law that normally protects the taxypayers’ interests.

The other beneficiary of this unprecedented waiver is the Development Fund for Iraq, which is the financing arm for all post-war economic activity in that country.

This order means the World Bank and other international capital will be exempt from congressional oversight or any other checks and balances imposed by U.S. law.

No, the Bush administration says, the Iraqi war is not about oil.

Against this backdrop, what the rest of the world sees as the imperialist plans of the American government are going forward, aided by oil giant British Petroleum (BP) and British and American taxpayers.

The need for oil is pushing the agenda. Two former Soviet states, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, have oil reserves three times the size of ours. The objective here is to find a way to get that petroleum into the tanks of American cars and trucks.

The U.S. Environment Department estimates that by 2010 the Caspian area could turn out 3.7 million barrels a day. World oil demand is expected to grow from 76 million barrels a day in 2000 to 118.9 million barrels by 2020. A pipeline could pump as much as 4.2 million barrels per year, easing our dependence on Gulf oil.

So the 1,090-mile pipeline is being built. The 42-inch-wide pipe will ultimately run from the Caspian port of Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyhan on the Turkish coast.

It is a daunting engineering feat, passing through some of the most difficult and dangerous terrain on the planet. The pipeline will cost up to $4 billion and is being built by a consortium of 11 companies headed by BP. Three quarters of the cost will come from bank loans and will include $600 million in tax dollars.

These companies are asking the International Finance Corp., an arm of the World Bank, to approve their loan request. They seek $300 million each from the World Bank and from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. They also have asked government agencies to underwrite the risk of the project being sabotaged by civil war or terrorism.

Critics of the project claim the pipeline will cause major environmental, social and economic havoc along its route. The Baku Ceyhan Campaign contends there will be serious damage whether the pipeline is built without mishaps or if they occur.

The pipeline project, which began construction in May, is 40 percent complete. British Petroleum says it will complete the job even if other consortium members drop out.

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