Commonwealth of Common Sense

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 17, 2006

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Commonwealth of Common Sense

One of the world’s most expansive ethnic groups sits on vast quantities of fossil fuel reserves, spread out across national and even continental boundaries. Turkey, the nominal head and economically most mature of these, should turn its far-flung cousins to a renewable energy horizon.

This Friday, November 17, Turkish leaders are welcoming the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya. The topic at hand will be the potential power of these countries with a common Turkic ethnic and cultural heritage, and the possible conglomeration of their resource leverage into a Turkic Commonwealth.

Turkic Ethnic Groups

copyright by Jost Gippert

Take a look at the area across which the Turkic peoples have spread over the centuries. In terms of energy policy, Turkey has aligned itself firmly with EU consensus, ratifying the Energy Charter Treaty and passing a law in 2001 to liberalize the energy sector and end government monopoly in order to attract foreign investment. Moves by the government in Turkey’s capital Ankara to raise taxes on refined petroleum products and natural gas have helped to lower the hyperinflation that plagued the country for a full three decades. But Turkey’s internal energy policy is secondary to the role it can play as an "energy bridge" between Caspian and Middle Eastern suppliers on the one hand and European consumer economies on the other.

BTC map

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC, as the cool kids call it) connects the Caspian port of Baku, Azerbaijan (another Turkic country) in the east with the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean shore.

Stretching across a rather narrow band of the Southern Caucasus, the BTC runs near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi before passing into Turkey. The route is salient here, because BTC is not BYC, as it would be if the pipeline’s midpoint ran close to the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan have been flashpoints for ethnic conflict in recent years, as they have been indeed for much of the history of the Caucasian region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

A news search for "Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan" yields the headline, "No One Except Baku to Benefit from Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan." This banner on reflects a bitter displeasure with the pipeline route and foreshadows what could potentially be a petropolitical mess down the road. Is the potential throughput worth the potential problems? Many say yes, including Kazakhstan, whose leaders announced this June that their eastern-Caspian oil will be pumped from the Kazakh port of Aktau to Baku and then on through the BTC line.

There have not been any Pan-Turkic summits held in the past half-decade, primarily due to the restlessness of the eastern Turkic states as they relate to Turkey. Turkey is seen as a doting older brother rather than a peer. But with a closer geographic connection to Europe than to, say, Uzbekistan, Turkey is in an advantageous position that should not be rejected out of hand.

Turkey Takes the Lead

Turkey can provide mutual benefit and bring the power of all of the Turkic Commonwealth to the world stage in a more credible way than leaders like Turkmenistan’s president for life Saparmurat Niyazov, who calls himself Turkmenbashi ("Leader of all Turkmens"). Turkey can also use the spirit of cooperation it has gained from the Energy Charter Treaty and industrial reform to guide resource-rich countries like Kazakhstan. The Turkish State Planning Organization deputy secretary said recently that

Turkey must immediately begin exploiting its renewable energy resources for economic, environmental and national security reasons.
The official, Halil Ibrahim Akca, said that Turkey is using only 35% of its potential hydroelectric production and less than half of one percent of the country’s wind power capacity.

Turkey’s untapped geothermal reserves are also substantial, but in this resource, too, production does not match potential.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. Much of that land is entirely uninhabited, making it prime property not only for oil and gas exploration but for solar, wind and other potential renewable power as well. What’s more, the national leadership in each of these blossoming resource powers should be eager to export as much fossil fuel as possible in order to take advantage of $60+ oil prices.

Even in fossil-based resource economies like the eastern Turkic countries, renewable energy makes sense. Renewable energy provides answers for the future while maximizing income today.

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