The Beverly Hillbillies
The Beverly Hillbillies, an extremely popular American tv-sitcom, about a poor backwoods family transplanted to Beverly Hills, California, after striking it rich with an oil well on their land, remains the great metaphor of unsophisticated oil/ lottery winners.
Striking it rich in the waters of Curacao is what the present government and many locals are dreaming of; unlimited wealth streaming in, like water, and never having to work again. Curacao’s would-be Hillbillies, with dollar signs in their eyes, like to embark on a hundred million dollar exploration to drill deep sea wells in search of the black gold.
From a geological point of view it is extreme unlikely that the Curacao bottom contains any oil or gas. Paleogene, or Lower Tertiary rock formations is the cutting edge of deep-water oil and, according to reputed geologists, Curacao does not have any Tertiary rock formations.
In 1987, the island of Curacao hit the jackpot when Shell Oil company pulled out of its very sophisticated refinery, after nearly 90 years and sold the plant to the island for one single dollar. The game for Shell, with large upstream profits, was over when Venezuela nationalized their wells. To earn a refinery fee was not even considered in those days; oil refinery was an expense to the oil company.
In the meantime the markets have changed and a net profit of US $ 5 per barrel refinery fee can be made, resulting in a daily profit for the Curacao refinery of about US dollar one million, or more per day.
Unfortunately, instead of capitalizing on Curacao’s great new fortune, politicians gave the super plant away to Venezuela/ Pdvsa in exchange of a long-term lease contract for a pittance in rent. The more than one billion dollars of net profits since 1987, were pocketed happily by the Chavez-junta, family and successors.
Oil is a commodity, available plentiful from everywhere in the world, and for an ever declining raw materials price. A refinery, like the one on Curacao, has the best of both worlds, it does not need an expensive local up-stream oil source, and Curacao with a super deep sea harbor can easily import and export raw materials and end-products, from and to anywhere in the world.
Politicians turn a blind eye to the unique selling proposition of their own refinery and, again with foreign concession companies, are eager to drill for oil and gas; you may get lucky after all.
In spite of a hundred years of very sophisticated oil refinery technology, many great research and development discoveries were made on the island., a very large staff of four generations of highly skilled and trained oil refinery engineers, no formal oil refinery education exists. One will not find any faculty teaching the unique knowledge and technology at the University of Curacao. The refinery is forced to do her own training. Politician preferred to invest in vocational schools and allowed a continuous brain-drain to Holland and elsewhere.
Obviously, the island community does not treasure its extremely valuable oil knowledge uniqueness. It does not like its ingenuous engineers with their great know-how. Smart developers made great progress over the years with a very profitable array of oil products and derivatives; the basis of a petro chemical industry existed in every way.
For decades the island has been plagued by high unemployment, a limping economy and a continuous brain drain. Politicians claim to be scrambling for new jobs and opportunities, but continue to disregard the assets the already have. The Curacao Hillbillies are nearly blind.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker, opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.