Saudi Arabia prepping a petroleum army

STR/AFP/Getty Images With the rise of China and India upending the world’s consumption patterns, protecting increasingly tight oil supplies is proving to be no small undertaking. By some estimates, a major supply disruption could send oil prices spiraling above $100 a barrel. In our September/October issue, FP took a closer look at moves by Russian ...

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599662_070829_saudi_05.jpg

STR/AFP/Getty Images

With the rise of China and India upending the world's consumption patterns, protecting increasingly tight oil supplies is proving to be no small undertaking. By some estimates, a major supply disruption could send oil prices spiraling above $100 a barrel.

In our September/October issue, FP took a closer look at moves by Russian oil giants Gazprom and Rosneft to establish their own private armies, equipped with machine guns and anti-riot gear, to guard their goods.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

With the rise of China and India upending the world’s consumption patterns, protecting increasingly tight oil supplies is proving to be no small undertaking. By some estimates, a major supply disruption could send oil prices spiraling above $100 a barrel.

In our September/October issue, FP took a closer look at moves by Russian oil giants Gazprom and Rosneft to establish their own private armies, equipped with machine guns and anti-riot gear, to guard their goods.

And now Saudi Arabia, a politically fragile country perched atop some 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves, has stepped up its own efforts to protect oil plants and pipelines—the kingdom’s economic lifeline—from potential attacks. After spending an estimated $5 billion and setting up a 35,000-strong security force, the Financial Times reports, Saudi Arabia will have more people guarding its petroleum than protecting the country’s skies (Air Force: 18,000) or seas (Navy: 15,500) combined. Compared to a chaotic Nigeria and a stubborn Russia, Saudi Arabia has been a very reliable oil supplier. And the Saudis are keen on staying that way.

The kingdom’s fears are not unfounded: This past February’s foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up the Abqaiq oil center, which handles two-thirds of the country’s oil supply, exposed potential security gaps. Plus, Osama bin Laden has been calling for attacks on the Arabian peninsula’s oil installations since 2004. And the Saudis are no doubt expecting blowback from seasoned jihadis returning from Iraq.

Any substantial disruption to Saudi oil production would send shock waves through the global economy, and particularly the gas-guzzling United States. Accordingly, U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin is actively training 5,000 Saudi personnel to use such nifty technology as laser security and satellite imaging. And how does Saudi Arabia plan on ensuring that a force this large will be impervious to radical infiltration? The FT says that recruits are being “heavily vetted” and sought from outside the country’s existing security forces. That’s going to involve a heckuva lot of background checks.

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