Energy policy eludes Soviet-bloc planners
Just as the United States and its major industrial allies have agreed to make substantial cuts in oil consumption in the 1980s, the Soviet Union's Eastern European allies are all having to make plans to cut industrial dependence on liquid fuel.
Energy and raw materials concerns dominated both the Venice summit and the meeting of Comecon heads of government in June.
For the latter, however -- its East European members especially -- the cause for concern is greater for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the Soviet Union's abnormally dominant role as the Eastern community's supplier.
Comecon, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, was able to produce cooperation accords on technological development and computerization. But concrete decisions on an energy, fuel, and raw-materials program were not reached. East-bloc commentators have since been explaining why.
Their reasons include:
The Soviet Union has large reserves of oil, coal, and other energy-bearing materials. But extraction, especially in regions of adverse climate, is costing much more, and this creates "tensions" in any effective energy policy even if Russia can maintain oil deliveries to its allies at the envisages 1980- 85 levels.
Four of its East European allies -- Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria -- are energy deficient and depend almost entirely on the USSR. At the same time, Romania has lost a traditional role as an oil-sufficient exporter and is now a net importer. Only Poland, with vast coal resources, has any prospect of energy self-sufficiency, despite its lack of oil and gas. It could also earn hard currency through the increased export of coal to the Western powers.
The problems in the East and West are curiously similar. Each is also burdened by pledges of aid to developing countries. Each has problems of adjustment to ever-rising oil prices.
But third-world aid constitutes an infinitely heavier drain for East Europeans than for the Western states. (As well as Vietnam and Mongolia, both members of Comecon, assistance now must be added for Angola, Afghanistan, South Yemen, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, and Ethiopia.)
Soviet oil prices are well below OPEC's, and will probably stay that way even if Moscow raises prices. But the East Europeans must expect to pay wold prices for anything above levels already fixed for 1980-85.
To this can be added the built-in difficulties of centralized bloc planning, an excessively high energy consumption per unit of production, and a virtual technological dependence on the West.
All this makes the transition from oil to other energy sources that much more difficult.
The East Europeans' options are limited, but they try to help themselves.
For some years, Poles and East Germans have conducted offshore exploration in the Baltic Sea and Romanians in the Black Sea. But in each case there is a question of whether economic deposits are there.
Romania and Bulgaria are working together on shale extraction processing. The Bulgarians are planning experimental shafts for coal in their Dobrudja region. It is there in great quantity, but 1,300 meters (4,300 feet) down, with three water layers between it and the surface.
Russia seems destined to remain the essential energy supplier for the area, but under greatly changed conditions.
By the mid-1980s Moscow itself will have no option but to make any increase in volume depend either on world prices or an equivalent investment in Soviet resources development.