[FOUNTAIN]Oil greasing wheels of history

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[FOUNTAIN]Oil greasing wheels of history

The first invention for delivering large amounts of petroleum was small wooden barrels that were carried by ocean-going vessels. The petroleum-filled barrels first crossed the Atlantic, arriving in England, in 1861. In 1866, the bulk tanker was invented. Over the ensuing years oil tankers developed rapidly in speed and size; today they can haul 400,000 tons and travel 16 knots per hour, delivering energy to all points of the world.

Another important oil carrier is the oil pipeline, with the first pipeline being built in the United States in 1868. In Pennsylvania, the oil industry built some 10 kilometers of wooden pipelines. Technology has developed to the point where large-mouthed steel pipelines extend for several thousands of kilometers.

Currently, pipelines are being discussed to link Russia's Irkutsk oil field to China and to South Korea. And another would start from Sakhalin, meandering undersea to the Russian Far East then to North Korea and finally to South Korea.

These are plans. But British Petroleum, in charge of the Irkutsk oil field, Royal Dutch Shell, which began commercial drilling in the second Sakhalin field, and Exxon, which manages the underwater gas fields of the Northern Sakhalin Islands, are engaged in fierce competition to win the business rights.

Interested parties include not only the big oil concerns, but also the U.S. government and North Korea. The U.S. Department of Energy has funded a research project to look into gas and gasoline projects in Northeast Asia. North Korea has signed an undisclosed memorandum of understanding with a Netherlands-led consortium that could possibly give exclusive rights to the consortium to build the North Korean part of the pipeline envisioned to link Sakhalin through the Russian Far East and ultimately reaching to South Korea.

Major oil concerns are investing heavily in the Sakhalin underwater oil fields, as the surrounding countries -- South Korea, Japan and Taiwan -- have posted the highest growth rates in energy use. An investment of $13 billion through 2005 in the islands is envisioned.

There is a saying that when petroleum and natural gas fields are developed, the international political landscape changes. The Sakhalin Islands are where Koreans, mobilized by the Japanese colonial rulers, worked the most gruelling of tasks and met the added misfortune of not being able to return home. Today, drilling rigs threaten to change the topography of this area.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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