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S. Korea upgrades energy alert level to cope with crude price surge

All Headlines 14:00 February 27, 2011

SEOUL, Feb. 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea upgraded its energy alert level and will implement nationwide conservation measures to deal with surging crude oil prices, the government said Sunday.

The move comes as the price for a barrel of Dubai crude, South Korea's benchmark, has shot up to over US$100 on the spot market for over five straight days. Resource-poor South Korea relies almost entirely on imports for its oil needs.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said that since crude prices will probably not fall off in the foreseeable future due to political uncertainties in some North African countries, Seoul has officially raised its energy alert level one notch from "blue" to "yellow." The country issued a "blue" alert on Dec. 29 after prices for a barrel of crude shot past the $90 mark.

With the issuing of the "yellow" alert, government measures will be taken to reduce unnecessary energy use without unduly inconveniencing industrial activities and the everyday life of people. The ministry said the measures will go into effect as of Monday.

It said because lighting accounts for 26.7 percent of energy needs in buildings, Seoul will take steps to mandatorily limit exterior scenery lighting on bridges and monuments, large apartment complexes and retail outlets while asking smaller shops and businesses to voluntarily reduce power use by giving incentives such as "cashback" for energy saved.

Exterior lightings for restaurants and entertainment businesses, gas stations and banks will also be ordered off late at night to save electricity.

"Violators caught after a seven-day grace period will be fined up to 3 million won," the ministry in charge of the country's industrial and energy policy said.

In the transportation sector, action will be taken to encourage greater use of mass transportation for people working for the government and in the public sector, and to get private businesses to take similar measures.

At present, public sector employees are asked to keep their cars at home at least once a week during the five-day workweek.

Besides turning off unnecessary lighting and asking people to drive less, the government plans to spend 10 billion won (US$8.8 million) so small and medium-sized businesses can change their signboards to energy efficient light-emitting diode lighting.

Policymakers, meanwhile, said they are carefully examining global market developments so additional measures can be taken. The Paris-based International Energy Agency claimed shortages of up to 800,000 barrels of crude may occur if the current unrest in countries like Libya is not resolved.

They also said that if prices continue to go up, the country's energy alert level will be raised further to "orange," which is the third-highest level in the country's four-tiered system. An orange alert can be issued if crude prices stay above $130 per barrel for five days, while the highest alert, "red," is issued when prices surge past the $150 mark.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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