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Pay heed to real hydrocarbon revenues

delhi Updated: May 10, 2010 00:46 IST
Bharti Chaturvedi

If you even uttered ‘oil and natural gas’ anytime last week, chances were the discussion turned to the Ambani brothers’ dispute. But such headlines should not displace the larger hydrocarbon discussion. Other, more sobering lessons are on offer from 2009 and 2010. Think of BP’s unfolding Deepwell Horizon catastrophe, where nearly 8000 tons of crude have spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, just as President Obama spoke of expanding deepwater drilling. In Australia, a country whose leader ironically claims to be committed to battling climate change, the Great Barrier Reef was threatened from a recent April oil spill-the second in the country in under two years.

All this should persuade us to treat the Ambani natural gas war as a side act in the larger hydrocarbon drama. Hydrocarbons are not only about revenues, even for a struggling India.

These natural resources can also cause environmental damage that is mostly impossible to reverse and could cost us enormously in human health and livelihood loss. It’s time to look at oil and gas revenues not only from the perspective of extraction, but also from one of savings, based on conservation. Global disasters warn us that conservation is the only sure way to protect the environment and still save money.

Footing the Bill

These days, our electricity consumption is at its highest, with cooling and refrigeration in peak demand. What is the upstream impact of this? It’s hard to know in the Indian context, but a study from Spain tells a grim story. Scientists Garcia-Perez and others studied 8073 Spanish towns from 1994 to 2003 to see if there was a link between lung, laryngeal and bladder tumours and power plants run on fossil fuels.

They found a definite link, and where coal was used, high risks for laryngeal cancer existed. I don’t expect Indian facilities are cleaner than Spanish ones, so let’s take these results seriously. That’s one more reason to think about electricity consumption-it has human impacts far worse than expected.