Where is the Oil?
A good friend recently asked me why I haven't written anything about the oil fields that are set for development off the Cambodian coast. It's a good question. I came here with the intention of framing the 'Lost Coast' travelogue against the backdrop of certain development at the hands of companies like Chevron and China National Offshore Oil Company. So far that background is mostly blank.
The problem is that even though oil will no doubt play THE major role in determining the future of this corner of the world, it isn't tangible yet. The story doesn't smell, at least not on the island beaches, or up river in the jungle. The fate of the Lost Coast is being determined in boardrooms and exclusive restaurants, in Beijing office buildings and on New York stock market tickers, in places impossible for an outsider to gain access.
The Cambodians who I ask about oil talk about how fuel is so much more expensive here than in neighboring Thailand. Foreigners are not much better - they've heard the rumors, but write it off as something impossible to influence and therefore better to ignore. This ignorance, acceptance and passivity is the story. But it's very difficult to tell.
The closest I've come to those who deal in Cambodian oil is one phone number of an importer of gourmet foods in Phnom Penh. "He knows the oil people," the bartender who gave me the number said. "He's doing a hell of a business shipping them steaks."
I also want to be extremely careful to maintain, if not objectivity, at least impartiality. Oil companies are not inherently evil. Neither are plastic bags, motors or Cambodian politicians. I own stock in major multi-national mining companies. I am part of the system.
But I do know that The Lost Coast of Cambodia is changing fast and that the presence of oil will speed these changes along. The things I'm seeing now will soon disappear, and that alone is reason enough to make this project worthwhile.
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