By David Renwick
With only two Energy Insiders left for the year, it is fitting to devote this one to the achievements of our Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs, Kevin Ramnarine, during the course of 2014 and, next week, to look ahead to what he needs to accomplish in the six months or so he will have left in office in 2015 before the next general election must be held.
If the People’s Partnership is restored to office, he will undoubtedly be asked by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to resume control of the ministry; if it is not, then he will presumably want to be able to look back on the initiatives he set in train that will have pushed the all-important energy sector forward.
Clearly, one of the high points of the minister’s career in 2014 would have been being named by the prestigious “Petroleum Economist” magazine as energy executive of the year globally. Yes, globally, which means he has been better at “making a major contribution to the industry” worldwide than any other energy minister or energy company leader on earth. Such an accolade is not bestowed lightly and, in the words of the judges, who were Lord Browne of Madingley, former bossman of the BP Group, Abdallah El Badri, Secretary General of OPEC, Torstein Indrebo, secretary general of the International Gas Union (IGU) and Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, Ramnarine was chosen because of the “rapid turnaround” he has effected in the country’s energy activities “in a short period of time” and for his “hands-on approach, enthusiasm and drive, which should stand the gas-producing nation in good stead as it seeks to realise ambitious new exploration and production goals.” As if this weren’t enough, Ramnarine’s ministry won the cleaner energy initiative award for its light bulb exchange programme which the judges saw as a “major step in the quest to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions in a developing nation.” Perhaps the judges of our own Express Individual of the Year contest (over whom, I hasten to add, I have absolutely no influence or control), might wish to take a leaf out of the “Petroleum Economist’s” book and consider whether Ramnarine might well deserve to be honoured at home in the same way as he has been honoured abroad.
The “new exploration and production goals” to which the “Petroleum Economist” judges referred relate, of course, to the deep water programme over which Ramnarine has largely presided. He signed off on the last two of the production sharing contracts (PSCs) for deep water in December – TTDAA 3 and TTDAA 7 – to a joint partnership of BHPBilliton and BG Trinidad and Tobago. This brought to nine the number of such blocks now in the exploration phase. Block TTDAA 23b had earlier been handed out (to BHPBilliton and Repsol) in November, 2013, blocks TTDAA 5, TTDAA 6, TTDAA 28 and TTDAA 29 in June, 2013 (to BHPBilliton on its own) and TTDAA 23a and TTDAA 14 in May, 2012 to the BP Group (though BHPBilliton subsequently farmed into both and became operator). Taken as a whole, that is a remarkable achievement, especially since previous People’s National Movement (PNM) governments have tried, and failed, to attract international companies into the deep water, touted as the last frontier for a substantial oil and/or gas discovery.
If BHPBilliton can pull it off, then, in the words of Paul Tempest, internationally acclaimed energy economist and a great friend of this country: “Trinidad and Tobago can double its per capita income within ten years from the first confirmed discoveries and development and will double it again within another ten years, which will lead to prosperity on a scale unseen in the Caribbean – at least four times the present level with a production horizon of 50 years.”
The minister who set such an outcome in motion, obviously deserves whatever recognition comes his way. What other success can the minister claim in 2014? Well, he also managed to turn the attention of companies back to the onshore area, where commercial oil production first began 106 years ago. He managed to persuade companies to put in acceptable bids for three land blocks, by name of Ortoire, Rio Claro and St Mary’s, which went through exploration and production licences (not PSCs), to Touchstone Exploration, Lease Operators and Range Resources Trinidad, respectively.
They were formally awarded on October 30 and all have the potential to yield new discoveries of crude in particular, which is exactly what the minister wants (in the deep water he wants oil too but would settle for gas if the geology so determines). If you add the mandatory exploratory drilling commitment in the deep water of 31 wells and that on land of 12 wells, you arrive at a total of 43 wells, which is an unheard of level of exploration within recent times. Not only that, but the 3D seismic survey being conducted by BHPBilliton over the deep water acreage amounts to 20,199 sq km, 3.96 times larger than the entire area of Trinidad and Tobago itself and, according to the experts, the largest seismic survey in history ever conducted by an international oil company. It is second only to one undertaken by Mexico’s Pemex but that, of course, is a state-owned company.
In keeping with this country’s commitment to the Caricom Energy Policy (CEP) to gradually introduce forms of non-fossil fuel energy into the local mix, Ramnarine has also been promoting a renewable energy agenda this year (the lightbulb exchange programme has more to do with energy efficiency, another CEP initiative, than renewable energy). The off-grid solar photovoltaic and solar distillation initiatives are moving ahead in schools and community centres and solar voltaic lighting for police surveillance bays continues. Most street lights and traffic lights are in the process of being converted to solar and the mammoth wind farm project in east Trinidad is in the planning stage.
Trinidad and Tobago in 2014 also joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The minister in the course of the year also ensured that he completed a green paper on minerals (not fossil fuels) policy and circulated it for public comment. He also set in motion the preparation of a national gas master plan, which, he said, was essential in light of the “many significant things that will happen in the next four to five years in gas that require us to have a proper plan, proper studies, to inform our decisions going forward.” Poten and Partners (UK) Ltd has been chosen as the consultants and is expected to complete its work by May or June, 2015.
NEXT WEEK: What needs to be done in 2015 but so little time in which to do it.
David Renwick was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) in 2008 for the development of energy journalism in Trinidad and Tobago