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13-03-2012 - Arab news /ABDEL AZIZ ALUWAISHEG

Saudi oil: The threat from within

If you divide that total by a population of 27 million people, oil consumption would amount to about (40) barrels per person each year, the highest per capita in the world. To put that in perspective, that rate is more than four times the rate of oil consumption in the United States, five times the rate of South Korea, and eight times the rate of consumption in Japan!

 

What is more alarming is that while industrialized countries' usage has been falling, ours has been growing. In the United States, which used to be criticized for its oil guzzling ways, per capita oil consumption has fallen from (11) barrels a day in 2005 to less than (9.5) barrels a day, a decline of about 14 percent in five years. Japan's usage has declined from (7) barrels to around (5) barrels during the past decade, a decline of 25 percent.

 

By comparison, consumption of oil in Saudi Arabia has jumped from around (30) to over (40) barrels a day, during the past decade, or 33 percent increase. Some estimates for the growth rate put it as high as 5 percent annually. If current trends continue, some experts expect Saudi domestic consumption to top seven million barrels a day by 2030!

I have used IEA figures to make it easier to make comparisons. National figures may differ somewhat, but the main trends are the same: We have probably the highest rate of oil consumption in the world, per capita, despite the fact that we are not the most industrialized country. In addition, while oil consumption in industrial counties is on the decline, ours is growing rapidly.

 

What does that mean? In simple terms, every barrel of oil consumed within the country deprives it of revenue it could make by selling it abroad. How much is that? By simple arithmetic, if we consume one billion barrels a year, as IEA figures indicate, that is a loss of $125 billion a year at the current price of oil of $125 per barrel (brent).

Since oil is essential for modern life, some oil consumption is necessary. If we were to consume, for example, at the same rate as Japan, that would still save us about $110 billion a year.

 

But the story gets "curiouser and curiouser." Not only are we wasting economic resources for the economy as a whole, but the public treasury is being deprived of huge revenues, year by year, by increased domestic consumption. What is even sadder is that abundant oil at low prices has not encouraged consumers to apply proper conservation measures. More pollution is shown time and again to be closely related to bad health. Consequently, health costs rise with higher pollution levels. Since most health care is provided by the government, which is another additional burden on the public treasury, on employers who provide health insurance, or on average citizens if they pay for health care by themselves.

Cheap oil may seem like a blessing, but it is in fact contributing to a tragedy in the making. At current rates of consumption, we are depriving the country of precious resources that can never be replenished, and causing the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars in potential export earnings. Those lost revenues could be used to improve standards of living and save oil and wealth to the next generations. Over consumption of oil is a leading cause for pollution, with disastrous health consequences.

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