17 June 2007

Out of gas

One of the days we hoped would never come has arrived. This country may be full of problems, but it's always been prodigal, and we've always been accustomed to waste. Oh, not waste of money, necessarily, especially when half the population is still officially poor or very close to it, but our abundant natural resources have always been enough to throw around. We've never had (that I remember) a long drought or a widespread animal plague threatening our supply of food; we haven't been involved in any war that demanded us to carefully mind what we consume; we've always had plenty of fuel to heat ourselves, power our cars, and propel our industries.

Well, if this isn't the first toll of the bell signaling the Day of Reckoning for Argentina's Age of Waste, I don't know what it is.

Industries have been suffering scheduled cuts of their natural gas supply for several years in the months of peak consumption. These are industries working "interruptible contracts", which means they're supplied gas but have agreed with the supplier that the flow can be stopped at certain times. A few weeks ago, natural gas was cut to some other industries as well. Days ago, fuel stations in Buenos Aires received the order to stop selling Compressed Natural Gas. Almost the same order came to Rosario's fuel stations this weekend: do not sell CNG except in cases of emergency, or sell only through one pipe.

This is not so dramatic, you might say. It's been very cold, we don't have reserves, we don't have appropriate infrastructure, we're accustomed not to care about fuel. But it's not been so cold — just over or just below zero degrees in the main urban centers; we have some reserves, and we could build the infrastructure in no time; we only need to be more aware of what we spend. Yet, the cold cannot be remedied, our reserves are not high, and nobody seems to be building infrastructure for gas extraction and delivery. Some say we have natural gas reserves to last until 2012 or 2016, but it's a well-known fact that the last remains of reserves are not as easy or cheap to extract. With an industrial energy matrix designed to use more natural gas than anything else, with more than 1.4 million vehicles running on cheap CNG (more than any other country in the world both in relative and in absolute numbers), and a culture of irresponsible waste that cannot be changed by merely pointing at alarming figures, what are we going to do?

I was going to go out yesterday night. I didn't, in part because it was very cold and I was tired and the gang had no firm plans ("Let's go somewhere and get some booze"), but then also I knew I would have trouble getting back home. Catching a bus after 1 AM is like hitting the jackpot, and taxis, which never abound, were fewer than usual. Why? Because most taxis run on CNG, and at night they can't just park in a busy stop and wait for passengers to come by; they need to get out and drive around the city and load CNG every now and then, and if possible, keep the heat running. Most would rather stay at home. I've endured the experience of fruitlessly waiting for either a taxi or a bus to come, at night, in less-than-safe corners, with sub-zero temperatures, for an hour or more. I'm too old for that; these days it's either a quick and comfortable ride home, or nothing.

Fortunately nobody's speaking of rationing gas supply to homes, except in the negative. We all know what rationing would mean, mere months before the elections. That's reason to be truly frightened — if this is now, what will they do after our vote is safely again in the far future?


  1. Do you have anything positive to say rather than blame everything on the current administration and the seemingly cheap babbling about "culture of waste" like right wing rag La Nacion does?.

    You sound like political comentator Joaquin Morales Sola who seems very obsessed with the fact that "gas is too cheap" and should be made more expensive for homes. In that argument, the increase in price will magically solve all problems.

    I don't know about you, but I consume exactly the same level of natural gas at my home like I did the year before it and the year before that. I cook, take a daily bath, and only turn on the heater on days of extreme cold.

    Should I be punished with higher prices for natural gas just because the private companies didn't invest in the last decade in exploration?.

    Should I be punished after a decade in which privatized utlities increased their rates based on the U.S. inflation index, at a time the local currency was pegged to the US dollar and there was internal DEFLATION in prices?

    Should redidential consumers pay the price of CARELESS planning of the M#nem government which built gasoducts to Chile thinking that Argentina's supply would seemingly "last forever" ??

    In short: I think Argentina's natural resources should go to benefit the local population. If that means shutting down the gasoduct to Chile and breaking relations with "our friends", then so be it.

    I think it's kind of silly of having to import gas from Bolivia and in turn having Argentina's remaining gas reserves fly out towards Chile, just because some idiotic notion of "respecting private property of the corporations involved and signed agreements".

    If a signed agreement was dumb, it should be re-negotiated, nothing is cast in stone in this Earth.

    Do you seriously think that making my gas bill 50% more expensive will fix the gas reserves crisis?

    Just my $0.02...


  2. The current administration has done a lot of good things. The management of the energy crisis has not been one of them. They spent a lot of time denying it, and now they're spending a lot of effort trying to pressure private companies to do in two months what they didn't do in decades (including the last four years, of course), and it's all for nothing. Yes, gas is too cheap. It's a non-renewable resource and we have very little of it. And this administration's economic plan encourages consumption, because K likes to show "Chinese growth rates" every semester. It's very nice and it even creates real jobs, but it's not sustainable. What the government should do is take the matters in its own hands, since the private companies will obviously never forgo their abundant profits just for the public good. Raise the gas fees slowly, start modifying the energy matrix, spend a few of those surplus billions in alternative energy research, do something about Enarsa, and in the meantime, decrease the IVA and start taxing the hell out of the "national burgeousie" so you can help the poor cope with the increased utility fees.

    Morales Solá has an obvious political agenda, and has never deserved my respect. Same for La Nación. Yet they are right sometimes. I read both Página and La Nación — for fun, as they both have their own notorious ideological allegiances. My opinions I form myself.


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