Hydrocarbon History 1: Why Haiti is Losing

Welcome to Hydrocarbon History! In this series we explore the past of oil and gas to see what we might learn from the mistakes and successes of others. In this episode we look at how the Dominican Republic developed their electrical grid in contrast to Haiti. If there is something else you would like us to cover, please let us know in the comments below!

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Audio Transcript:

Hey everybody, Tavis here, and welcome to a new segment on the show. Although RARE PETRO stays busy with content creation we do other things too. Sometimes we exhaust the backlog of content we have, and this is a solution to that problem. When thinking about what I could make to ensure we would still regularly release content, I thought of something our CEO, Anthony McDaniels, often says: “You can learn a lot if you look at history.” At first I discounted this, but the more and more I thought about it, he’s right! I avoid so many mistakes because I can simply sit down and google how to do something. I can understand the motives behind some political moves, because it is unlikely this is the first time a disagreement of this sort has existed. These are just silly examples, but they help guide us to (hopefully) avoid making the same mistakes. So, welcome to a new series, “Hydrocarbon History!” If you are listening to this as a podcast rather than watching on youtube, I highly encourage you to watch the video as there will be some visual aspects that will enhance your understanding.

For the first episode, I wanted to talk about the energy history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Let’s jog it back to the 17th century where much of Europe was fighting for control of the “New World” or the Americas and other nearby territories. France and Spain were fighting for the island of Hispaniola which was the second largest island right after Cuba. After a while, they got fed up with fighting and decided to split the island into two colonies in 1697. It wasn’t until 1804 that Haiti became independent from France, and 1821 the Dominican Republic became independent from Spain. Basically, they left this colonial land split in place, and they are kinda like siamese twins because the island is two nations of one land mass, rather than 2 people of the same biomass… (laughter) I’m sorry, that was gross.

But that establishes the basic history of their modern existence. Even so, if we look at some basic economic indicators, there are huge key differences between these two neighboring nations. Their population is about the same, but the DR has way more people with access to electricity. They consume roughly 10 times the amount of petroleum products that Haiti does, have almost 10 times the GDP per capita, a fraction of the infant mortality & unemployment rate, and a much higher literacy rate. Why is this? Well, I hypothesize that a lot of it has to do with their development of energy and electricity. In the 60s and 70s, the DR launched programs to harness hydroelectric power and import propane and other natural gases to spare their forests. You see their neighbors, the Haitians, had a burgeoning agricultural economy, but it all came at the cost of exhausting their soils and water. Most of the rainfall on the island comes from the East, so the DR soaks up a lot of that available water. Today, Haiti does not have the same agricultural growth, and the DR has retained a lot of their trees because they chose to use other forms of energy for heating and cooking, unlike the Hiatians who continue to use wood, about 4 million tons annually to be exact.

Things were going well for the DR until about the late 1990s where unreliable infrastructure, blackouts, and corruption thanks to a state owned electric monopoly began to hamper the electrical success. Things were starting to look bad. Thankfully, the country pulled a 180 and threw more money into bettering the quality of their electric grid. The early 2000s were a great success, and then in 2008, the Dominican Corporation of State Electricity Companies (CDEEE) pursued a project that would improve distribution efficiency between the country’s 3 electric companies reducing the number of blackouts that the region would experience. Where does that leave us today? Well, it is probably best if I show you.

This is the google maps view of the island. Note the border. Now, I can switch to google earth with a satellite view of what the island looks like at night. Notice how virtually all of the lights lie on the Dominican side of the border, and the only major lights on the Haitian side are in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Furthermore, let’s look at a satellite image during the daytime. If we zoom in on the border and follow it, you can see that there are less green heavily forested lands on the western side of the border in Haiti. Again, this goes back to their heating and cooking. Roughly ⅓ of Haitian wood is converted into charcoal for cooking, and a lot of cooking is still conducted inside homes with little ventilation. This leads to a good deal of indoor air pollution, the world’s deadliest environmental problem leading to 4 million deaths annually. If you took all the deaths in 2017 that were a result of HIV/AIDS, another leading cause of worldwide fatalities, it totals to 950,000, or less than a quarter of indoor air pollution related deaths. In 2006, the DR generated 86% of their electricity from fossil fuels, and 14% from hydroelectric sources because they have a developed grid. Haiti on the other hand used diesel generators to supply power to homes (if you were wealthy enough to afford one) or otherwise burned biomass. I think this definitely plays into the life expectancy difference that is 20% greater in the DR. Let’s also modernize this case even more by talking about VACCINES. In Haiti, 20% of their electricity is already used for vaccines. By that I mean power going to refrigerators to keep them cool. Unfortunately, power in Haiti is not nearly as reliable as the larger advanced grid in the DR, so this poses a challenge for healthcare in the region.

Now I could go on and on about many of the differences between these countries, but the list is far too long, and I don’t want to reach too far out of my domain of knowledge. Remember, there are plenty of correlations in this data, but a lot of what I mentioned are hypotheses. So, what did we learn from this segment then? One way I would like to frame it is that there are many pros and cons to each energy use, but sometimes the pros of abundant, cheap, reliable energy outweigh the cons. Things like emissions. Infant mortality rate. Environmentally related deaths. Second, sometimes utilization of fossil fuels results in more environmentally responsible lifestyles.

But don’t take my word for it! I just want to stimulate your minds. Make sure to do your own research! A great place to start would be the description of this video where I have included all my sources. If this topic doesn’t interest you any more, then you can still go to rarepetro.com to find many many more sources of information to digest. I’m Tavis Kilian, and this has been Hydrocarbon History with RARE PETRO.

Music: https://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music

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