kings and queens and generals learn your name

Ah, MEND – everyone’s favourite dark-globalisation guerrilla gang, whose strategy is based on the world oil market as they career around Nigeria in RIBs with six or so huge outboards and silly numbers of heavy machine guns, while God knows where their leader/committee/nameless mobile phone number is. You can see why the defence establishment loves to worry about’em; like the Vikings, the Hell’s Angels, the rappers and the Viet Cong at once. Never get out of the boat, as someone said. J-Ro is always mad keen on them; I reckon they’re far more classically Marxist, fighting for a better share of the resource export money.

But I think their campaign may be slipping. Here’s why.

Reuters Alertnet reports them issuing a wave of threats to foreign oil workers on the 13th of September. On the 14th, they declare an oil war. What else was going on at that moment? Hurricane Ike was certain to hit the US oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico by the 10th or thereabouts – the landfall was on the 13th. It was the perfect moment for a global guerrilla group to hit the infrastructure of a major oil exporter. But the price of oil was dropping sharply; even threats to step it up further only had a marginal impact.

On the 21st of September, MEND announced a ceasefire; you’ll note that the reduction in supply they achieved was around 150,000 barrels a day. The day after this, the oil price jumped wildly; the best explanation for this is a classic bear squeeze, as that particular day was a witching (the last day to buy oil before the futures contract for that month expired).

So what’s going on? Here are the figures for US oil demand in the relevant period. The demand for oil fell by 1,400,000 barrels a day compared with the same week a year before, which was itself down on the year before. That is no small quantity. That’s not too far off half Iran’s exports, and it’s ten times the cut in output MEND can reliably achieve when its leaders call for it. This is interesting; strategy beats tactics, after all, and the power of the global guerrilla is meant to be based on a permanently hypersensitive infrastructure.

Part of this is due to international trade in fuel, of course; but although there’s apparently a queue of ships in New York waiting to unload, I haven’t spotted a consistent spike in product-tanker rates, as opposed to VLCC ones, yet.

Meanwhile, every wind turbine is a vote for independence from Russia.

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