SEOUL, Apr 17: South Korea, the world's fourth-biggest crude oil buyer, said on Monday it may consider mandatory measures to curb energy use and releasing oil reserves to help cushion the economic impact of rising oil prices.
South Korea is extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices because the country has to import all of its crude oil and its annual billion energy bill makes up nearly a quarter of its total imports.
The nuclear dispute between Western countries and Iran is causing global oil prices to hover near a barrel, just below a record .85 hit on Aug. 30.
Amid few signs of an end to the stand off, Iran has said it would ignore renewed international calls to halt uranium enrichment, casting a shadow over Thursday's visit by the head of the U.N. atomic energy watchdog for talks.
The South Korean government may look at mandatory measures to curb energy consumption, taking account into U.N. action over the Iran nuclear issue, prices and the balance of supply and demand, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said in a statement.
The ministry did not specify what kind of measures it would consider.
The government also pledged to release oil reserves if the situation in Iran deteriorated, such as if the United Nations imposed sanctions.
Seoul has repeatedly said it would release its strategic oil reserves as a last resort whenever prices rose sharply.
As of the end of February, South Korea held 149.5 million barrels of oil reserves, enough to cover 111 days of net imports and well above the 90-day mandatory level required by the International Energy Agency.
Before taking any compulsory measures, South Korea will start with a campaign for voluntary conservation such as encouraging people to turn off personal computers after use and use public transportation or walking instead of driving, the ministry said.