Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and PNM MPs Colm Imbert and Marlene McDonald may have behaved irresponsibly in making alarmist statements on the ongoing negotiations between this country and Venezuela regarding the monetising of gas from the huge, cross-border, Loran/Manatee reservoirs.
Last week, following the signing of what must be a complex memorandum, Imbert claimed that foreign news reports on the partial agreement suggested that it “favoured Venezuela”. Without adducing an ounce of proof, he and Dr Rowley translated that to mean that all ten trillion or so cubic feet of gas contained in the fields will go to Venezuela via a yet-to-be-constructed 270-kilometre pipeline.
If we are to believe the opposition trio, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine has “sold out” Trinidad and Tobago’s 2.6 tcf share of the gas for God-knows-what. Their claim, which Ramnarine denied, was spurious, even mischievous, since none of the reports they alluded to quoted Venezuela’s Petroleum Minister, Rafael Ramirez, as saying that his country will harvest all the gas.
The Reuters report on the issue stated, “Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago said that Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA will work with US company Chevron to develop an offshore natural gas field, one of three that span the Caribbean countries’ maritime border. The deal follows six years of bi-national talks about how to share the reserves fairly….”
What makes the opposition allegations more distressing is that since they were in office when the operators struck gas, they will have known the facts. There are three fields that make up Loran/Manatee that straddle the Venezuela-T&T border. Based on our maritime boundaries, from early o’clock the fields were said to hold around ten tcf of “gas in place”, with roughly 73 per cent belonging to Venezuela and 27 per cent to T&T.
On our side of the border, energy majors Chevron and British Gas did the drilling. On Venezuela’s side, Chevron and state-owned PDVSA were involved. The discovery was made back in 2005 or thereabouts, and talks between Port of Spain and Caracas on how both countries could best monetise the bounty began shortly thereafter. They dragged on for years, and Minister Ramnarine must be complimented for having expedited the process to arrive at an agreement that is mutually satisfactory.
We have not seen the document, which we understand is still incomplete, but from what we have gleaned, a joint-venture involving Chevron and PDVSA will explore the first field. Presumably, the recovered gas will be shared between the two countries on a proportional basis.
Does it matter on which side of the border production will start? Hardly. In fact, since the fields are close to each other, it makes good business sense to drill from one point, sharing the costs. In any event, Chevron, which is a partner to both countries, is a reputable major that has operated in T&T for many years.
If the opposition contention is that Venezuela’s share of the gas should have come to Atlantic for processing, really, do they expect us to dictate to Caracas? That might have been mutually beneficial, but how they monetise their gas is completely up to them.
In the circumstances, they have opted to pipe their gas to their fledgling Marsical-Sucre project, a LNG plant they have toyed with since 2003. Venezuela has more than 200 tcf in proved gas reserves, but no downstream gas development. Now, they seem poised to make that leap, and the Loran/Manatee fields form part of the new thrust.
Given our vast experience and expertise in downstream industries, on which Minister Ramirez has commented favourably, we should seek to grasp opportunities that may arise in Venezuela. We have a vast pool of technical personnel who can help usher in a new era in our neighbour’s diversification of its huge energy sector.
At a time like this, and on an issue like this, we need to set aside political differences and seek the best interest of the country. The PNM, under whose stewardship the downstream gas sector expanded to what it is today, knows this. It is why we find their comments regrettable.