The night, some trains, oil rock and one note

The night, some trains, oil rock and one note

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«Note No. 014/13: Mr. co-owner we will appreciate your acceptance to carry out the civil works for the installation of residential gas.» The Administration

With this cold and formal note the «Administration» (or the Building Manager) told us (asking permission at the same time) that in the coming weeks all residents will have access to natural gas  by network. When I read this note I thought in all the things that Bolivia made to reach this situation, now it seems very normal to connect «natural gas» in our homes, but let me tell you my dear reader that it was not always was in this way. In this sense, what I want to share with you is the Bolivian energy history. Certainly I’ll not review this rich history in the few lines, I will simply tell you some anecdotes and present some figures that reflect my point of view .

Bolivia was, and still is, a mining country, so it’s not surprising that the rail system developed first because was necessary «to carry on the mineral» to export markets. For this reason, the western part of my country had a boom in the railways development.

In this context, I invite you now to imagine an small town in the Bolivian «Altiplano», mud houses, very cold (say 32 degrees Fahrenheit) and very poor conditions . At about two o’clock in the morning, you can hear a distant whistle of a steam locomotive announcing a swift step in that cold winter nights. With the moonlight, several men went out from their houses and stand up besides the railroad, why? because if there were lucky a hot piece of coal with drop out from the train and will be use for future cook and warm activities in the house.

This anecdote, which my father told me, reflects in many ways how energy access can improve people’s lives. Naturally, in the early stages of human development , energy sources came from what nature gave us: firewood, manure , etc. However, human intelligence led us to new energy sources, a gripping story can be found in the book «The Prize» by Daniel Yergin; for example, in this book we can know that Dr. Abraham Gesner developed a method for extract oil of asphalt. Dr. Gesner called this oil «kerosene», from the Greek words «Keros» and «elaion» meaning wax and oil, respectively. You can anticipate almost immediately that the word «petroleum» comes from the Greek : stone oil (petra).

Now imagine the 60’s and 70’s in Bolivia, the rise of Beatles, psychedelic music , The Crickets (a Bolivian group) and of course… Elvis. These images certainly you can decode quickly, which maybe you don’t remember (or you don’t, because your age) is that many Bolivian households used kerosene for cooking.

I invite you to see the graph below, you will find the final energy consumption from Bolivians in 1976. Clearly the graph highlights the consumption of gasoline, diesel oil and kerosene… it appears timidly the LPG consumption, this because at that time the Bolivian state oil company (YPFB ) incentivized the «the energy matrix conversion» from kerosene to LPG… it’s funny to remember the concerns of some people: «The food with kerosene tastes better».

So, in the last 40 years Bolivia had the following energy policy guidelines: 1) introduce LPG consumption, 2) develop more exploration for oil reserves first, and natural gas second, 3) attract investment to the sector, 4) make the Brazil export project as a national project, 5) create laws to encourage exploration; 6) invest billions of dollars to find and certify reserves; 7) convince people that it was necessary to export natural gas, 7) sign sale and purchase agreements with Brazil and Argentina… Therefore, I invite you to see the next beautiful energy matrix graph, see how natural gas now accounts for about 23 % of the energy consumption matrix in Bolivia… Of course! was not free, was a lot of past and present work that now allows us to enjoy energy in our homes. However, we need a huge job in rural areas… see biomass consumption.

I thought all this when I saw the note from the Building Manager and I wanted to tell something to the person who was with me at the elevator, I just only said: «We have gas! «…  this person saw me and said, «Was about time! I hope it will not explode in our homes»… I wanted to say something, but was time to leave, I just thought : «Damn! «

Mauricio Medinaceli

La Paz , August 30, 2014