Rice, Harvard University: The Geopolitics of Natural Gas

At some point in the future, the Middle East could become “a major source of gas for the world,” according to one of the possible – and provocative – conclusions emerging from a new, multi-year study done by Harvard University and Rice University’s Center for Energy Studies.

The study looked at the likely results for the natural gas industry of different political scenarios around the globe, and found marked differences in outcome.  

The study, “The Geopolitics of Natural Gas,” was recently discussed by the three project principals and others at Rice University. Rather than lead off with a status-quo scenario of the Middle East that was consistent with the level of turmoil that the region is in, the group decided to start off with another scenario – that of a stable Middle East.

The study results of that scenario “vividly captures the opportunity costs of the conflicts and the tensions of the Middle East,” said Meghan O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. For the Middle East to become a world gas supplier, there is a qualifier – the region would have to exhibit the kind of stability seldom seen there.

In the study’s Middle East stability scenario, the directors of the study assumed:

  • Iran and the international community came to an agreement about its nuclear program
  • conflict in Syria subsided
  • Saudi Arabia’s domestic issues and questions about succession were resolved

“With less political uncertainty in the region … we see that the Middle East really becomes a major source of gas for the world. That sentence, taken on its own, could make people nervous. But again, we’re talking about a different kind of Middle East,” explained O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan is one of three directors of the study, along with Kenneth Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at the Baker Institute, and Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis.


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