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Oil wars?

America’s wars are all about securing energy reserves, according to some people, but the reality is that the war in Afghanistan has probably consumed far more energy than it will ever yield.

A Nato official is quoted in this story on oil pilfering in Helmand saying that the Afghan security forces spend $600 million a year on fuel. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that doesn’t include Nato’s own consumption. Either way, it’s a staggering amount of money — and energy.

How much? Well, let’s look at it:

  • Gasoline costs about $3.50 a gallon at the pump
  • $600 million buys you 171 million gallons of gasoline
  • That’s about 4 million barrels, or two oil tankers full of gasoline
  • You’d need about twice that amount of crude oil — 8 million barrels — to refine that much
  • Two million barrels could fill a football stadium

And that probably doesn’t count the oil used by the army, navy and air force. And this is for just one year. Yikes. The total amount of energy consumed by the war there must be astronomical — and even withdrawal will not eliminate the spending. The Afghans will presumably continue to get free fuel after the American exit.

The story also implies that much of the security force’s gasoline is going to the Taliban, which would hardly be surprising.

Meanwhile, Americans are complaining about reliance on foreign oil and steep prices at the pump.


Further, looking at how much oil this is in comparison to consumption in other countries, let’s just say the Afghan security force is consuming 8 million barrels of crude oil, which is roughly how much crude you would need to get this much gasoline, with a fair chunk of diesel into the bargain.

Afghanistan’s population is 35 million, so 8 million barrels of crude is about half a barrel for every person in the country. It seems that the convention is to use the number of barrels per 1,000 people per day, so that gets us to a figure of around 230 barrels a person — and, divided by 365, we obviously get a number less than one, though not by much. It’s about two-thirds of a barrel per person per day.

That may seem small — Singapore scores 202 barrels a day, for example — but there are several countries that register as one or zero, including Bangladesh (and Afghanistan), according to this random website I’m relying on.

That seems like a huge amount of oil (assuming my back-of-the-envelope sums add up). It’s enough to run an undeveloped country like Laos. Imagine how much good could be done with that kind of money — and how much economic growth it could generate if it was used for development instead of propping up a puppet government.

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