Yesterday was World Environment Day and in its afterglow or aftermath – depending on what our attitudes and actions are collectively or individually – we could reflect today on the vital issue of fuel usage which is connected not only with the environment but also the economy.
On a worldwide scale, Calls are growing for a fair price for fuel as the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ministers meet in Vienna to review production levels. According to the Al Jazeera news agency, Iraq, Venezuela and Angola are among OPEC nations backing a price of $75-$80 a barrel. The price of Brent Crude had hit a high of around $114 a barrel last June before crashing spectacularly at the beginning of this year to $47. The price has since stabilised at around $65.
OPEC’s top producers, led by Saudi Arabia, are resisting calls to tighten the taps and drive up prices. The 12-nation cartel, which accounts for around 40 per cent of world supply, is concerned that any drop in production will be filled by outside players, such as the United States and Russia, Al Jazeera says.
So, Al Jazeera asks, have OPEC’s priorities shifted from setting production limits and prices to best support producers and consumers, to a more self-centred focus on retaining market share?
Another vital factor that Sri Lanka and the world need to give close attention to is that the current Middle East turmoil – mainly the war in Iraq and Syria – favours US shale over OPEC oil. According to energy experts, OPEC oil ministers, at their meeting which began yesterday, are facing a strategic dilemma.
Political instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is discouraging capital investment in local oil and gas projects, and shifting interest to North American shale—despite MENA’s lower cost, abundant and easy-to-extract hydrocarbon resources. Although the current oil slump has adversely affected investment worldwide, the recovery period appears to favour investment in North America, the Caspian and Africa at OPEC’s expense. When it comes to new oil and gas projects, rule of law and political stability are more attractive than vast, low-cost reserves.
Shale oil is an unconventional oil produced from oil shale rock fragments by pyrolysis, hydrogenation, or thermal dissolution. These processes convert the organic matter within the rock (kerogen) into synthetic oil and gas. The resulting oil can be used immediately as a fuel or upgraded to meet refinery feedstock specifications by adding hydrogen and removing impurities such as sulphur and nitrogen. The refined products can be used for the same purposes as those derived from crude oil.
Against the backdrop of such a scenario, Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka is taking practical and effective steps to reduce fuel usage and air pollution. For instance, the ministry has organised a big bicycle race tomorrow as part of its programmes to mark World Environment Day and make people aware that curbing climate change has now become a grave issue of life or death for the world’s population of 7,315,195,544 as estimated on May 16 this year. Collectively and individually, all of us Sri Lankans need to measure our carbon footprints and take small steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions gradually not just to reduce our fuel or electricity bills but for the higher mission of saving planet Earth. Using public transport more often and less private transport, going back to the good old bicycle era, cutting down on the use of fresh water and electricity are among the practical steps. President Maithripala Sirisena, who has made a personal commitment to curb climate change, presided at a national ceremony in his home base of Polonnaruwa to mark the World Environment Day. He pledged new laws would be introduced to stop deforestation and the pollution of Mother Earth by the use of poisonous agrochemicals. While the Government takes these commendable long-term measures, all people need to dream the not-so-impossible dream of saving planet Earth by consuming with care.