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Brazil's oil 'blessing' is no energy panacea

State-owned oil firm Petrobras found some 8 billion barrels of oil, but it's buried deep in the ocean.

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Brazil struck oil last month, and it was a true throw-your-hat-in-the-air, whoopee, eureka discovery.

Buried under at least 3.7 miles of Atlantic Ocean, rock, and thick salt deposits, engineers confirmed a reservoir of black gold containing up to 8 billion barrels, making it the biggest find anywhere in the world this millennium.

The discovery by state-controlled oil company Petrobras had Brazilians giddy with excitement. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called Petrobras "a blessing from God," and his chief of staff declared Brazil could now proudly rub shoulders with the world's major oil producers.

It was a landmark moment for a nation already blessed with more than its fair share of animals, vegetables, and minerals. But it is not the answer to Brazil's energy problems, at least not in the short term, experts say. Cautioning the politicians and nationalists to curb their enthusiasm, industry specialists say Brazil must address infrastructure and planning issues before declaring its energy future secure.

"Brazil has oil, gas, biomass, hydropower," said Saturnino Sergio da Silva, vice president of the São Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP), the state's most important business organization. "If we develop them then we won't have any problems. But Brazil has always lacked forward planning."

Brazil sees need to invest in energy

Brazil recognizes it needs to invest in energy in order to ensure supplies are available and economical enough to keep the country competitive and growing at a rate predicted to be close to 5 percent per year over the next few years.

The government's Growth Acceleration Plan released last January envisages spending around $154 billion on energy projects before 2010.

But the immediate challenges are what worry industry experts and the most pressing of them involves not oil but gas.

"In the short term we have a gas shortage," said Marcio Pereira, an industry expert with Rio-based energy consultancy firm PSR. "We don't have enough gas to supply industry, residences and cars as well as thermoelectric plants. The situation is not dramatic but there is a yellow light."

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