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Tom O'Donnell presents ’Can Iran, China and Russia Help Chavéz Boost Oil Production and 'Escape the Market of el Imperio'

Monday, September 28, 2009
12:00 AM
1644 SSWB (International Institute)

When half the employees of striking Venezuelan national oil company, PDVSA, were fired in 2002, President Chavez was then able to freely access its resources to support the Bolivarian program. But, PDVSA was in dire straits, lacking most of its technical and managerial employees. High prices offset production declines, but with excessive rent-taking for payments to new social programs, taxes and royalties, OPEC reported there were no new oil investment projects by 2006, and maintenance also fell sharply.A strategic alignment with Chinese and Iranian companies aimed to solve PDVSA's investment and technical-production problems, shipping oil in bilateral deals avoiding the open market. Billions in Iranian, Russian and especially Chinese investments were promised. Chinese oil engineers were to supervise 30% of PDVSA production by 2012, Iranian engineers and businesses arrived, and transnational companies were to develop fields for the global market. But, by late 2009, compounded by economic crisis, virtually nothing has developed in the oil sector, PDVSA production continues to fall, and Venezuelan refineries are now struggling near collapse.In this light, what is the reality of Chávez' ever-intensified rhetoric and renewed deal-signing with Iran (Sept. 2009) promising to send 20k barrels of gas a day to Iran and to jointly build nuclear facilities in Venezuela? This is analyzed by drawing on data and extensive interviews collected from current and past Venezuelan and foreign officials throughout 2008-2009 in Venezuela.Co-Sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies

Thomas W. O'Donnell is a nuclear physicist (Ph.D., from U. Michigan at Ann Arbor).  His present work examines the political economy of a globalized energy sector, especially of petroleum, as a basis for understanding both U.S. geo-strategy and the trajectories of major oil-producing states. This research and teaching have focused on the Middle East and North African (MENA) states and Latin America. 

Dr. O’Donnell was a 2008 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Venezuela, and in 2009 he continues his affiliation with the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (CENDES-UCV) in Caracas, studying the political economy of oil in the internal and external policies of the Bolivarian state.  This is part of a larger comparative study including Algeria. 

Dr. O’Donnell has often taught at The New School for Social Research in New York City, where he was also Visiting Fellow at the Department of Graduate Economics in 2008-09.  He previously taught at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for several years on Energy and the Environment; Science Technology and Society (STS); and in Middle East and North African Studies, while conducting research in nuclear physics. involving production of neutron-rich isotopes, to explore the limits of stability of the atomic nucleus.

Before earning his Ph.D., Dr. O’Donnell left academia for a decade, organizing among workers in the unions of the automobile and railway industries, in impoverished communities of Detroit and Chicago, and wrote on political and economic affairs.  He later worked for several years, consulting on Energy, Environmental and Nuclear issues.