28 February 2008


Remember when there was not an energy crisis? Remember when the constant blackouts were not signs of an impending energy collapse but just the growth pains of a flourishing, rapidly expanding economy? Well, we might be heading for another no-crisis again!

Just as they deny that inflation is high and growing, the government is now forcefully denying that the meeting of Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia's heads of state to solve the energy problem was a failure. It was a failure, of course. Bolivia told us they've got contracts signed with Brazil to send 30 million cubic meters per day of natural gas their way, and they intend to fulfill them, unless Brazil agreed to loosen up the terms. Upon Argentina's request, Brazil (that is, Petrobras) kindly replied they're not going to let us have a single molecule of their Bolivian natural gas, because they need it to power the massive (and politically influential) São Paulo's industrial complex. Faced with Argentina's teary-eyed despair, it's quite likely Brazil and Bolivia tried to console her, "You still have Venezuela."

We need fossil fuel for our power plants, industries and vehicles. You can't cut fuel to the power plants, or you'll have blackouts. Angry citizens in the dark aren't good for presidential popularity. You can't cut natural gas for cars, because there are over a million cars in Argentina running on it. You also can't cut NG for homes, because we cook and heat our bathwater with it. You can't cut fuel oil, either, because most heavy vehicles run on it, from the trucks that transport consumer products all across our vast territory to the machines that harvest our crops.

Last year, industries were forced to agree with the government on programmed cuts of the supply of natural gas, and on new working hours. They moved their working shifts around, and to cover the rest of their demand they imported fuel oil from Venezuela at four times the price of natural gas, with some help from government subsidies. This was a problem and will be a problem again this winter, when everybody in the cities starts turning on the NG-powered heaters at full blast. There are some industries and power plants that need natural gas no matter what.

Brazil finally agreed to send a few million megawatts of their spare electricity our way as a compensation for depriving us of our Bolivian natural gas. The offer is neither enough nor well-meaning. It seems Brazil is still angry because last year we re-negotiated the price of natural gas with Bolivia, and Brazil ended up paying a lot more because the new Bolivian government realized they'd been giving it away.

Oh, and Bolivia just realized that they don't have the infrastructure they need to deliver the 20 million m³ of natural gas they'd promised..., the gas for which we're building a huge, expensive gasoduct. We were expecting it for 2010, but Bolivia says the private companies that must invest in exploration and transport of the gas are withholding their money — because they don't like a Socialist/populist government that takes 50% of their massive profits from them. So the gasoduct will be just an empty, useless pipe for a couple of years at least.

Chile also needs natural gas to heat homes. They imported a lot from us, but starting in 2004 we broke our contractual obligations (with some legal protection — national needs are above contracts with foreign companies) and nowadays our gas exports are a trickle (or maybe a whiff?). So not only we're screwed, we're also screwing Chile. Argentina met Chile too, on a separate account, and they agreed that Chilean companies will get natural gas and they'll give our companies fuel oil. This is good for Chile because otherwise they'd have to use diesel, which is pricier. The equation doesn't work for Argentina, however, because fuel oil is so much more expensive than natural gas. Something will have to be done to fix that.

And, of course, this mess is not such, but only the reflection of a flourishing economy. There is and there won't be an energy crisis, and if you say so, you're a conspirator against the government, bent on destroying the country, and probably a neoliberal serial baby killer as well.

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