Category Archives: Oman

Desalination’s Grim End: The Persian Gulf

Kuwait is a Connecticut sized piece of land with 4.3 million citizens at the far north end of the Persian Gulf. They pump not quite three million barrels of oil per day and hold roughly 10% of the world’s oil reserves. Which they are going to need, because they are 100% dependent on desalination for water and the Persian Gulf is becoming too saline to use.

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Three million barrels a day times forty two gallons per barrel is 126,000,000 gallons. Divide by 4.3 million and that’s twenty nine gallons of oil per person produced daily. Let’s turn those into some water numbers. 126 million gallons is 387 acre feet or 477,272 cubic meters. Tankers used to top out at  two million barrels but now the largest VLCCs in operation are half that size.

Per this report, Kuwait is producing 1.65M cubic meters of water per day by desalination. A cubic meter is 6.29 barrels, so that’s around ten million barrels of water a day. Importing that much fresh water seems a daunting task, given that there really isn’t anywhere on the coast of the Indian ocean that has large amounts of fresh water. Maybe they could build a fleet of OTEC vessels, they’ve got access to pretty good temperature differential right outside the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea.

OTEC Potential

OTEC Potential

But that is an enormous conceptual step for a monarchy whose entire resource base is the oil beneath their feet, supplemented by a financial sector that grew in parallel with that wealth.


Since we’re applying Functional Triage to areas of human habitation the water challenge alone puts Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the U.A.E. on the death spiral list. Add the expected months of 50C+ temperatures expected in two or three generations and you’ve got an area that is about as hospitable as the Dead Sea region is today. The populations of North Africa and the Mideast are going to be direct climate refugees, or under pressure from those who are, and when the water runs out they’ll start moving.

Yemen already has a food and water crisis. The Levant isn’t going to get better until Syria’s water problems are solved. Those desalination dependent Persian Gulf states have a population of about twenty two million. Their breakdown is a problem similar in scope to Yemen, with twenty million, and Syria, with twenty six million. Add the concerns of Iran, where 60% of the population live in places that are becoming uninhabitable, and you’ve got a party.


If the Persian Gulf were like Somalia we’d ignore the situation as best we could. But 20% of the world’s oil transits the Strait of Hormuz and the U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. Long before we admit the situation is untenable we’re going to put ‘boots on the ground’ trying to control that which is long past control of personalities.

The combined populace of North Africa and the Mideast is roughly equal to the of Europe – both are just below 750 million. The 508 million member European union is starting to fray and immigration pressure is a key component of that. Regions don’t break down in isolation, the Syrian conflict has nearly bowled over both Jordan and Lebanon. Things are going to get progressively more prickly between Europe and MENA, and the Trump administration is an excellent tool for fanning those flames.

If this leaves you feeling creeped out, go read the Eight Principles of Uncivilization again …

Fragile States Index 2016

The Fragile States Index 2016 was just mentioned on beBee and I saw a nice dataset to visualize in Tableau. Here is the original high resolution image:


And here is the image that resulted from my very simple import of the data into a Tableau workbook:


The states of the Mideast, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa have been an interest of mine for the past several years. Here’s a nit with Tableau, but it’s probably a deficit on my part – the only way I could make Syria visible would be to suppress the appearance of Lebanon. Tableau also treats Western Sahara as Terra Nullius, when it’s an ongoing problem between Morocco which administers it and Algeria which hosts many refugees.


Here are the grimmest of the grim, seven states with fragility scores in excess of 110. Iraq is one bad summer away from joining them.


I’ve made a copy of the Fragile States 2016 workbook available. I really should start pulling in other data, but what I want here would be food and water security information, and that’s often scattered and dated.

Low Oil Prices, High Geopolitical Risk

There are times when an infographic is so compelling I take a screen shot of it. Previously such an image would have been the ‘seed crystal’ for an article here, but now I’ve found one I want to duplicate using Tableau. This came from a LinkedIn post entitled Welcome to the new normal. Clock’s ticking, Venezuela, by Eurasia Group.



So what are we looking at here? I see the following:

  • An X-Y graph of log population vs. years to deplete oil reserves AND sovereign wealth funds.
  • Pie charts of oil and other income per nation
  • Pies sized by government revenue in billions.
  • A dividing line separating those who are stressed from countries which are considered more robust.

There are some textual or implicit characteristics of this infographic:

  • Oil prices are $50/bbl over the long haul.
  • Each country’s break even cost per barrel known, but unstated.
  • Countries maintain export to internal use ratio, avoiding the Export Land Model trap.


There are some other issues that matter when considering the implications of $50/bbl oil. Sixteen years of oil prices and oil rig count are an instructive visualization.


The global oil industry has crashed hard, down to less than $30/bbl this spring. The reasons are more geopolitical than economic – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia – go nose around and see if you can detect the calculus behind prices and production volume.

Another interesting graph is the long term Baltic Dry Index, and we’re going to start watching the container oriented HARPEX, too. All we need for the moment is the BDI, which is a proxy for global trade. The DJIA is a measure of investor sentiment and we’ve all seen multiple bubbles in our lives, but it takes a really big one like 2008 to drag the BDI higher. As a rule, people don’t rent dry bulk freighters and pay in advance, hoping to rent them to others at a higher rate.



What does that infographic tell us? It separates those with small sovereign wealth funds OR oil that is costly to produce from those who are either savers or cheap producers. But I really question its accuracy, because …

  • Why is Libya in the safe zone, when it basically no longer exists as a country?
  • Oman’s government leans heavily on oil, but it’s diversified aggressively.
  • Why isn’t Algeria listed, because they’ve got ISSUES.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad infographic, to the contrary, it neatly sums up some serious issues from the perspective of an analyst that knows oil production. But it does show the hazards in trying to abstract nearly a dozen dimensions of information into a flat 2D representation.

My initial thought was to replicate this work, but having critiqued it, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend the time, given how quickly things are moving in the Ethereum realm.

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 – 2012

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 - 2012

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 – 2012

I have seen a surprising amount of ill informed editorializing about the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens in Benghazi, Libya on September 12th, 2012. I thought adding some context to the situation might be helpful.

Benghazi was not unique. There have been eights attacks on six different U.S. consulates in and around the Mideast since the 9/11 attack. They include:

  1. Karachi, Pakistan, 2002, 2003, and 2006
  2. Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2002
  3. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2004
  4. Damascus, Syria, 2006
  5. Sana’a, Yemen, 2008
  6. Benghazi, Libya, 2012


The events in Benghazi are complex; we don’t have full knowledge of everything U.S. forces may have been doing in Libya due to the chaos resulting from the overthrow of Gaddafi. The 2012 Benghazi Attack Wikipedia entry cites many sources with varying views on the pre-conditions, the actual attack, and the response.

One thing is certain, convicted bank fraud artist Nakoula Basseley Nakoula bears some of the blame for the outburst of violence on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. A Coptic Christian of Egyptian descent, Nakoula is thought to be the source of Innocence Of Muslims, a crudely made trailer for a non-existent movie. Egypt’s population is about 10% Coptic Christians and they face persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority. Nakoula’s intent appeared to be calling attention to the injustice, but instead four Americans in Benghazi and about seventy others in the region died during violence touched off during protests of this insult.

Congress also shares a portion of the blame for the fate of Ambassador Stevens and the three others killed:

The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks. (2011-10-01)

The quote seems particular damning, but read the whole article. There was an 22% across the board cut, but a separate request for spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was approved. Including the separate request the State Department budget was still down $3.5 billion from the prior year, a very short sighted move given that Arab Spring was only ten months old at the time the decision was made.

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Three autocratic governments blown away, two countries sliding into sectarian conflict, two others facing massive protests, and four that were compeled to introduce reforms by their restive population. And the response from Congress to this seismic shift? Budget cuts.

I have written before about the massive imbalance between our preventative State Department ($52 billion) and reactive Defense Department ($711 billion) budgets in Foreign Policy Futures. We typically cut spending between 25% and 35% when we finish a war. Every time we take a dollar from the Pentagon we should be slipping a dime to Foggy Bottom to ensure we don’t get sucked into some avoidable future conflict.

The Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Peninsula British Influence

I found this wonderful map of the Arabian Peninsula under British rule from 1905 to 1923. I don’t have anything specific to say about this, other than I’m amazed at the detail and happy to have noticed it while searching for other things.

Persian Gulf 1905 1923