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ENVIRONMENT-VENEZUELA: Excess Offer of Oil to Turn into Scarcity, Experts Say

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Feb 14 1998 (IPS) - The excess offer that has oil prices down is merely a passing phenomenon, a leading international expert on energy told a conference in Venezuela, and the mid to long-term outlook is of a scarcity of the fossil fuel.

Britain’s Michael Jefferson, assistant secretary-general of the non-governmental World Energy Council (WEC), pointed out that 40 percent of the world population had not yet incorporated the use of commercial sources of energy, and a large part of that sector would do so within the next 50 years.

According to projections, oil will continue meeting one-third of the world’s total energy demands, while fossil fuels in general will continue to be the source of 76 percent of global consumption.

Demand for energy in Latin America and the Caribbean will grow at an annual rate of three percent in the first 20 years of the coming century, said the regional vice-president of WEC, Venezuela’s Joaquin Tredinick.

Jefferson and Tredinick spoke at a two-day Latin American/Caribbean forum on the energy outlook for the 21st century. The forum, which ended Thursday, was organised in Caracas by the regional chapter of the London-based WEC that has branches in 100 countries.

The WEC brings together academics, entrepreneurs and entities specialising in energy all over the world. Its stated objective is “to promote the sustainable supply and use of enrgy for the greatest benefit of all.” To do that, the council of experts in energy and resources technology analyses long-term trends in the energy sector.

Jefferson said coal – which meets 22 percent of demand today – would continue to be the second source of primary energy for some time, followed by natural gas (21 percent), nuclear energy (six percent), hydroelectricity (four or five percent) and solar energy (two percent).

Non-traditional sources like wood and biomass account for 11 percent, he added.

Around two billion people still have no access to commercial sources of energy, and Jefferson underlined that they are located in the developing South, the area where demand will grow the most over the next half century.

WEC studies indicate that 20 to 30 trillion dollars will be invested from 1990 to 2020 – at constant 1990 values – at least three trillion of which will be channeled into Latin America.

The two-day forum discussed aspects such as economic growth in Latin America, wealth, diversification of energy and capacity for self-sufficiency, the indispensable incorporation of the environmental variable into production and consumption, and steps towards the integration of the sector.

Jefferson said that by the year 2050, this region would be home to more than 800 million people, compared to slightly more than 500 million inhabitants today.

By that time, more than 500 million people will live in South America alone, half of them in Brazil.

Venezuela, he added, is and will continue to be one of the world’s 10 leading sources of energy thanks to its reserves of oil, gas, coal and hydroelectricity and the growing weight that its synthetic orimulsion fuel is expected to have in the future.

Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera said the world’s energy- rich countries had a growing responsibility to humanity, and that “balance and good sense” must be fostered in the handling of oil and other sources of energy by producers and consumers.

Tredenick pointed out that “all eyes will turn to Latin America for a large number of reasons” in the next century. He added that the region’s future production of oil alone would climb to around 20 million barrels a day.

Referring to the electricity sector, Tredenick said the region would have to increase its current offer of 180 gigawatts by more than 50 percent to meet demand, which will require stepped up participation by the private sector due to the inability of the states to meet future investment needs.

Venezuelan Energy Minister Erwin Arrieta, meanhile, said his country would not participate in any possible cut in OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) production to shore up the sliding prices. “Every country is sovereign” when it comes to such initiatives, the minister added.

The president of ‘Petroleos de Venezuela’ (PDVSA), Luis Giusti, said the state-owned oil company would not change its production quota this year, which is more than 700,000 barrels a day higher than the quota assigned this quarter by OPEC.

OPEC has failed in its attempt to pressure the Caldera administration to limit production to its quota of 2.6 million barrels a day.

Local energy authorities pointed out that when OPEC in general and Venezuela in particular cut production to curb the last fall in prices, in 1986, what ended up happening was that other producers took over a larger share of the world market for oil.

“At times like this, we must have a steady hand and cool head, and not modify strategies due to passing situations,” Giusti stressed.

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