The energy sector assumed critical importance in Bolivia's economy in the 1980s. In 1985 hydrocarbons became the country's leading export, accounting for over half of all exports, 11 percent of GDP, and more than 50 percent of central government revenues. Petroleum was the dominant hydrocarbon during the quadrupling of oil prices in the 1970s, but it was overshadowed in the 1980s by natural gas. The country also had an enormous, and largely untapped, potential for hydroelectricity. Despite its impressive energy resources, however, most Bolivians consumed relatively little energy. As much as 90 percent of the mostly rural population remained without access to electricity in the late 1980s.
Most of the nation's energy consumption was destined for residential or commercial purposes (46 percent), followed by transportation (31 percent), industry (20 percent), and mining (3 percent). Energy consumption was stable in the late 1980s, as the residential and industrial sectors assumed much of the energy previously used by the mining industry. Firewood was the energy supply for 74 percent of residential and commercial purposes, while hydrocarbons accounted for 20 percent and electricity for only 6 percent. Indians in the highlands relied almost entirely on shrubs, charcoal, bottled gas, and animal dung as fuel sources. A new gas pipeline for urban dwellers in La Paz was expected to increase the amount of gas used by residences. The transportation sector relied entirely on hydrocarbons. Industry used primarily hydrocarbons (57 percent); bagasse, or sugarcane residue (30 percent); electricity (8 percent); and charcoal and firewood (5 percent). Charcoal and firewood accounted for the majority of the mining sector's consumption. Before 1985 tin smelters consumed 85 percent of the country's charcoal.
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