[FOUNTAIN]Hopes of oil had dried up in the pastMore than three decades ago, Korea was an oil-producing country, at least for a few days. On Jan. 15, 1976, President Park Chung Hee said in his New Year’s address that oil had been discovered near Yeongil Bay. Although he added that scientific investigation would be necessary to gauge the reserve, Koreans who had suffered in the aftermath of the oil shock welcomed the news.
There were rumors that oil was discovered near Pohang’s Yeongil Bay at the time, because President Park had been boasting about the oil discovery since December the year before. However, the oil in Yeongil Bay was soon found to have little economic value.
Korea finally became an energy producer on Friday. The Donghae-1 gas field, 58 kilometers southeast of Ulsan, began producing natural gas. The drilling facility will produce 400,000 tons of natural gas every year for the next 15 years. Although it produces only 2.2 percent of the nation’s gas consumption, it is a result of 40 years of exploration. Korea has become the 95th energy-producing country.
There are ways to lessen the energy burden without producing oil and natural gas. A most common solution is to develop oil fields abroad. More than 70 percent of France’s crude petroleum import is produced at foreign oil fields developed by the French. Nearly 10 percent of Japan’s oil imports is produced at oil fields owned by the Japanese government and companies.
Korea began the overseas oil development in the 1980s. Despite the bitter failure at the Madura oil field in Indonesia, imports of overseas oil development by Korea rose 3 percent in only a decade. However, the number has not grown since the 1990s.
After the oil shock of the 1970s, the government installed a Ministry of Energy and Resources in 1978. However, the ministry was absorbed by the Ministry of Commerce under the Kim Young-sam Administration, and the name was changed to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
In 1998, under the Kim Dae-jung administration, it became the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. The new name does not reflect the growing importance of energy-related departments.
On the day that Korea became an energy producer, I am reminded of the extinct ministry of energy and resources and the stalemate of the overseas energy development.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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