Oil crisis fuels need to look forward

ANALYSIS: Trevor Sturgess
ANALYSIS: Trevor Sturgess

THE pound litre has arrived. The £5 gallon is just around the corner.

Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of oil installations in the American South has accelerated the surge in fuel prices.

But it should not be forgotten that prices were already going up before Katrina. Problems in Iraq and increasing demand from China had already put the frighteners on motorist and haulage boss alike.

A looming lack of refining capacity for diesel is also set to alarm the rapidly increasing number of diesel car owners as well as distribution companies.

Now there is the threat of fuel protests, the like of which we have not seen for almost five years.

Concern about fuel price rises is understandable, especially in businesses where fuel is their lifeblood.

But the ugly scenes associated with the last protests are not wanted. They serve no useful purpose and put lives at risk. They are also inappropriate to the situation.

Financial inconvenience for British motorists and hauliers is nothing when set against the plight of homeless residents in New Orleans and Biloxi.

Sure, tax on fuel is too high for many people’s liking, but the Government has frozen duty for the past few years. Tax as a proportion of fuel cost is falling as the commodity price rises. So the Chancellor is not quite the villain he once was.

There is still the issue of oil companies. Certainly, their profits seem to rise steeply when prices rise. There is a real suspicion that they exploit these situations to profiteer for the benefit of shareholders. They must be seen to be as quick to cut prices as they are to increase them.

Fuel is one of the biggest issues facing the planet. We know we should use less, but we love it. It is hard to envisage modern life without it. It is the key to product availability in supermarkets, the means by which we travel to faraway places and heat our homes.

But fossil fuel will not last for ever. Shortages will fuel new exploration, as it is in the North Sea with the issue of a record number of licences this week. The world’s remotest areas will be punctured by the oil drill.

So the need for alternative fuels is paramount. That is why Kent’s quest to attract a United Nations fuel-from-crops centre is so timely.

The county must be at the heart of what will be the defining economic issue of the next 50 years.

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