Oil routes and chokepoints: what is about to change?

The large trade of black gold has always represented a threat to the ecosystem, but it will no longer be the same from now on. The birth of “big traffic jams”, which are dangerous for the environment, derives from the fact that one third of all products, traveling during the year in the ships, are made up of oil and derivatives.

However, considering the propensity of companies to aspire more to a future without oil, this danger will almost surely be reduced. 80% of oil routes pass through “chokepoints”, bottlenecks (curious the similarity to the genetic concept of the “bottleneck effect”), or rather mandatory routes, often in the middle of political or commercial tensions. If these were interrupted, they could highly reduce the supply of large geographical areas, with consequent and immediate repercussions on the cost of energy and oil itself.

The most important chokepoint from an economic point of view is the Hormuz Strait, where a fifth of the total traffic passes through, of which 80% towards Asia: precisely, six of the biggest global oil powers overlook the Persian Gulf. The bottlenecks in front of Singapore are a point of absolute difficulty for both traffic and pirates, but it is fundamental to reach China, Japan and South Korea, three large and consolidated economic realities of the Asian continent. The Suez Canal is another bottleneck and, in order to meet Asian demand, it notices a growth in Russian, North African and US crude oil flows towards the South. Several ship owners have experienced that, today, for certain cargos, it is cheaper to move around Africa than to pay the toll to Egypt. At the bottom of the Red Sea there is also Bab el-Mandeb, the scene of bloody events of piracy in the past.

Instead, the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits close the Black Sea and separate Erdogan’s Turkey from Crimea, members and protagonists of the Crimean War in 1858-61. It is exactly in these two straits that the crude oil of Russia passes through, by far the leading nation of European oil, coming from the Caspian Sea towards Europe. For years, Turkey has been planning a doubling that cuts through the western suburbs of Istanbul. The Panama Canal, as regards the crude oil routes, has a regional value: it is certainly a critical point, but for other types of goods. The Danish straits between the Baltic and the North Sea and the Cape of Good Hope have more importance: unlike the others chokepoints, they are not a bottleneck, but are still a mandatory route – in front of which 6 million barrels pass through every day – towards Asia and the West.

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