2016/01/12: a story that passed largely unnoticed in our American world. Sitting atop some of the planet's great oil reserves and getting 73% of their revenues from oil sales (income that dropped by 23% last year), the Saudi royals just hiked the domestic price of gas at the pump by 40%. Though it still remains dirt cheap by global standards, that act -- which is like charging for salt water in the middle of the ocean -- is an indication that something startling is going on. And note that, in the years to come, that kingdom's rulers are planning to cut back on similar subsidies for “electricity, water, diesel, and kerosene.” In other words, the world’s largest oil producer and a country of striking wealth (and foreign reserves) no longer feels comfortable giving away gas to its own population, even though this is part of a bargain it struck long ago for peace in the kingdom.
And the reason for this has little to do with Iran or Syria or Yemen or Iraq or the Islamic State. The problem is far more basic, as TomDispatch’s resident energy expert Michael Klare points out today. It’s the price of oil, which in the last 18 months has dropped through the floor. In a sense, the oil business -- with its constellation of giant energy firms, until recently among the most profitable companies in history, and its energy-producing states, until recently riding high -- may prove to be the natural-resource equivalent of a failed state, and, as Klare makes clear, the changing economics of oil will transform the political face of the planet. So keep your eye on Saudi Arabia. Things there could get ugly indeed.