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Editorial comment

For many of us, it is difficult to imagine functioning each day without our morning coffee. Indeed, I had to wait for our office tea lady (yes, we still have a tea lady) to bring round my white coffee this morning before I could even contemplate the thought of starting to write this comment. The Swiss, however, seem to be particularly passionate about their daily caffeine hit.


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The Swiss government recently delayed a final decision on its proposal to scrap the country’s 15 000 t supply of coffee – which currently forms part of its strategic reserves – following public outcry. To clarify, the stockpiling of goods deemed ‘essential for life’ is compulsory in Switzerland. These goods include therapeutic products, medicines, fertilizers, fresh water, rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil and, of course, coffee. The reserves have been kept since the end of the Second World War, following years of severe shortages throughout the country. Producers of goods on the ‘essential’ list are required by law to store a certain quantity of their goods, and the government pays them for the cost of storage.

The Swiss public are also expected to stock private emergency supplies, in case of a catastrophe or emergency. The recommended list includes 9 litres of water per person, a week’s worth of food, a battery-operated radio, flashlights, batteries, candles, matches and hygiene articles. However, statistics seem to suggest that just one-third of Swiss citizens still follow the government’s recommendations.1

Petroleum products also feature on the Swiss government’s list of essential goods. There are compulsory stockpiles of motor gasoline, diesel, heating oil and kerosene type jet fuel. According to CARBURA – the Swiss organisation for the compulsory stockpiling of oil products – the compulsory stockpiles are sufficient for three months of consumption in the case of jet fuel, and four and a half months for all other types. The stockpiling system is financed by contributions on imports.

Switzerland is, of course, not alone when it comes to stockpiling petroleum products. All industrialised nations maintain compulsory petroleum stockpiles, and overall control of this is carried out by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which was established in 1974 to ensure energy security, following the oil crisis in 1973. The disastrous impact of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey on the US oil and gas storage industry is just one example of the importance of such stockpiling measures. But it is not just natural disasters that can devastate food, energy and pharmaceutical supplies. The recent drone and missile attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities serves as a reminder of both the potential impacts of geopolitical tensions, and the potential threat of new technology. Cyber attacks are yet another factor that the energy sector should be increasingly aware of.

This issue of Tanks & Terminals includes articles on how storage operators can protect their assets from Mother Nature (p. 39), as well as from security and cyber threats (p. 57). We also look at tank monitoring, roof inspection, inventory control and, somewhat coincidentally, the issue of ‘coffee ground’ corrosion in storage tanks (p. 31).

  1. FOULKES, I., ‘Switzerland’s plan to stop stockpiling coffee proves hard to swallow’, BBC, (14 November 2019).

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