THE SWEET PERFUME wafting over northern Iraq does not come from the wildflowers that speckle its rumpled plains in spring. It is the smell of oil and it is everywhere, flaring at wellheads, sloshing from the tanker trucks that grind up potholed roads to backyard refineries in the Kurdish hills and fuming from their chimneys. Nor is this the oiliest part of Iraq. That lies in the deserts to the south where it literally seeps from the ground. In fact the whole of Iraq sits atop seams and pockets of the sticky stuff. There is plenty to go around, if only the Iraqis could agree to stop shooting each other.
There is plenty for other Arabs, too. Taken together, their 19 countries hold some 46% of the world’s total proven oil reserves (as well as a quarter of its natural-gas reserves). The ones with the most have it doubly easy. Saudis or Kuwaitis spend just $3 to tap a barrel from their most accessible wells. Small wonder that their oilmen scoff at looming competition from America’s fancy frackers and shalers. The technical wizardry of the modern drilling techniques that may soon make America self-sufficient in energy can push the cost of extracting a barrel well beyond $100.
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