Aftonbladet’s headline writers would fashion a world war from a domestic dispute

Posted on November 1, 2017


(Aftonbladet is a Swedish tabloid daily newpaper)

If one scrolled though Aftonbladet’s top page on Friday 27 October one would find the headline, “After ISIS – now the battle for oil begins”. The article promised TV + TEXT and it is Wolfgang Hansson who is the author. The title, “Risk for confrontation between Russia and the USA in Syria” made me click through further.

The article is summarized by the following text, “The war in Syria is in no way over. It is now the superpowers and their allies that are trying to lay claim to the most oil rich parts of the territory that the Islamic State once controlled. This may involve increased risk for a direct confrontation between Russia and the USA.” I know that this text is the editor’s summary and so with great interest I read what Wolfgang himself has written, for it was around 10 years ago that Wolfgang came to Uppsala to write something on Peak Oil.

To begin Wolfgang discusses the vacuum that has been left now that ISIS’s self-declared caliphate lies in ruins. It is known that Russia supports the Syrian army while the USA nearly exclusively relies on the Syrian Kurdish forces. To quote the article, “Russia has reacted strongly to the fact that the Kurds, with the assistance of bombing by the USA, have occupied the most income-productive oil field, Al-Omar. The Assad regime is greatly in need of income so, of course, also wants to take back the oil fields that belonged to the formerly united Syrian state. The small areas that ISIS still controls are in Deir Ezzor, Syria’s most oil rich province. There is currently a competition between Russia’s and the USA’s respective allies to see who will control these areas.”

If one reads the entire article and does not worry about the headline and summary written by the editor then I think the article is well written. Oil is a topic of the article but is not its most important issue. Compared to Sweden, Syria is a large oil producer but compared to Norway it is a minor player. The editor who wrote the headline and summary wants us to believe that oil in Syria could be a reason for conflict between Russia and the USA. Even if the declining production from the Al-Omar field and the Deir Ezzor area is important for Syria, it is only a trickle for the superpowers. Oil production in Syria reached a peak around 2002 at over 600,000 barrels per day. But they have not found any new large oil fields in recent years and their production is declining. It is now well under 100,000 barrels per day. That Russia with a production of 11 million barrels per day and the USA with its production of over 12 million barrels per day would fight over oil production of under 0.1 million barrels per day is fanciful. Having said this, I do not want to assert that there are not other political questions that can generate tension between both superpowers.

To Wolfgang, I would say that your article is very interesting. It is a pity that the editor at Aftonbladet mistakenly tried to get us to believe that the oil in Syria could cause a conflict between Russia and the USA. We should also be aware that, in 2007, the Swedish oil company Tanganyika Oil owned oil reserves in Syria of around 400 million barrels. This is equivalent to 15-20% of Syria’s reserves. Tanganyika Oil sold its reserves to China, and that means that the world’s third superpower also has interests in Syria, (possibly greater than those of Russia and the USA), since China has production rights over this oil.

It is a pity that a flashy headline created by an editor with limited knowledge on oil can create a conflict scenario between the superpowers, a scenario that will certainly make many people worried about the future.

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