AS AN oil producing nation, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010 drew considerable interest from both the public and policymakers in Brunei.
Eventually the question popped up during the 7th meeting of the Legislative Council in 2011. What is being done so that the country would not have to face a crisis that had devastated the environment and the social needs surrounding it?
Fortunately, the international companies operating in Brunei do not have as horrible track record as BP, the operators of Deepwater Horizon, has. With that in mind, however, accidents do happen; the recent minor oil spill that struck Kuala Belait over the New Year weekend in 2012, is a case in point .
In terms of environmental damage, it was barely a hiccup. No one died, wildlife more or less remained intact and the beaches of Kuala Belait were probably a little bit cleaner after the cleaning operations because they had to remove large amounts of debris and beach-trash to even start getting at the oil pooled around it.
Of course, people asked "how did that happen? and why?" An independent government probe promised to have answers in October.
While I was thinking about the Brunei accident, I came across a book entitled "Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America."by William Freudenburg and Robert Gramling.The two environmental scientists covered extensively, the lessons that were taken away from the BP disaster and more importantly; the steps, the policy and the history of how a mindset was shaped for a human-made disaster of that scale to have even been possible (money, power and some degree of corruption may be involved).
They also went into detail about the terminology and technology used, in layman's term, for oil drilling and exploration. As oil is a huge chunk of the country's wealth, the book provides semi-critical knowledge for all Bruneians and not just those hoping to enter the oil industry.
Their warning at the start of the book was grim, "The key to doing so is by focusing on some of the larger lessons that are available to be learned from this and other disasters," they write, noting that "We have been getting into increasingly dangerous waters, doing so without being sufficiently vigilant about the implications of our actions".
Their exploration into the subject tells us the story of the United States as the birthplace of oil discovery and also formerly one of the largest oil-exporters in the world, and how the US shaped their policies over several presidencies around oil.
They state bluntly, that the BP oil disaster was "not just a tragedy, but also a challenge and an opportunity...a challenge to take a closer, more clear-eyed look at our policies, and an opportunity to realise that this is a hole that cannot be escaped simply by digging deeper to look for more oil".
"Instead, our only hope for a better energy future is to respond to the oil-darkened waters with clearer thinking...to move now to confront the reality of using ever-increasing quantities of scarce and precious petroleum and to begin to move to a future that will be controlled by our decisions, not by our dependence on the fast remnants of the time when dinosaurs last roamed the earth".
"It's about time," they said.
Last year, Bruneians were one of the highest consumers of energy per capita in the region. The government hopes to reduce this figure with recent initiatives, policies and awareness campaigns.
A 2011 Overview of the Energy Sector, published at the start of this year by this paper, highlighted various government commitment towards renewable energy and energy conservation/efficiency (although we also have a target for an increase in oil production in the draft of the Energy White Paper).
Whether or not those initiatives will be successful will largely depend on the mindset of Bruneians. Something that is important because as the country takes on the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2013, we, its citizens also need to shrug off the mantle of "wastefulness".
One final interesting bit worthy of attention in Freudenburg and Gramling's book was perhaps inadvertent answer to "what happens when oil runs out?". Many people in Brunei often talk this over in coffee-table discussions, and arrive at answers that are either vague or depressing.
They do not have to struggle for an example. In the book, the story of Pithole Pennsylvania in the United States gives one possibility. Once it was busy town of some 10,000 people living off the proceeds of oil, the inhabitants living in wealth and luxury.
Pithole is now a ghost town, a reminder that all good things come to an end.
The views are author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Brunei Times.
The Brunei Times
Thursday, June 28, 2012
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