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TT should optimise gas reserves off Venezuela
Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

By George Alleyne,

With discussions between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela on the division of South America's largest reserves of natural gas, located in the Deltana Platform, nearing completion, Government should move toward retaining majority interest in the development of the country's determined portion of the platform.

The Deltana Platform with its literal "gold mine" of natural gas reserves is estimated to contain 38 trillion cubic feet of gas, more than double this country's 2984 - then current reserves of 17.3 trillion cubic feet.

Talks on apportioning of the Deltana Platform have been ongoing between Trinidad and Venezuela since 2003. They are expected to be completed in 2006.

It would be a tragedy and a dismissal of the economic interest and future of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago should Government content itself with the granting of licences to foreign investors and the collection of taxes and royalties, however upgraded. There are billions of dollars to be gained from the exploiting of this hugely substantial natural gas field, indeed far in excess of any revenue that can be had merely from taxes.

Almost from the discovery, for example, of the commercial potential of natural gas and the development of gas fields off the East Coast of Trinidad, both the capital and the companies developing this major energy source have been invariably foreign. This is not to ignore the contribution of the National Gas Company.

Admittedly, for several years now, Trinidad and Tobago has been a shareholder, albeit a minority one through its natural gas, in the industry. But Trinidad and Tobago is no longer as it was when crude oil and natural gas were first discovered and exploited. This country has been politically independent since 1962, yet to look at the majority ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, the country is not much better off, ownership wise, than when we were a colony.

Recently, Government has hinted, strongly, at involving itself in any new liquefied natural gas trains. It should determine to have significant majority ownership of these trains, and decide in conjunction with Venezuela, with other natural gas and liquefied natural gas producers, on pricing. Any decision on LNG pricing as well as natural gas pricing should be arrived at on what is paid for LNG (and natural gas) at the ultimate market place.

Trinidad and Tobago and other gas producing countries must form themselves, and not be coy about doing this, into an OPEC equivalent. They should appreciate that natural gas as crude, is a wasting asset, and that as any other commodity or product the best possible price should be sought for it.

Meanwhile, in the same way that Government agreed in principle in 1983 for Trintoc to "conclude arrangements for the processing of 20,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan crude in Trinidad," it should seek to reach agreement with Venezuela for production; by the State company it has talked of establishing, of liquefied natural gas.

Any other approach which would see foreign companies or a foreign consortium in Trinidad and Tobago producing LNG would be game playing by Government.

One hundred and seventy one years after the officially proclaimed end of slavery, let us seek to end tacit economic serfdom. Investors from developed countries have paid for expertise to help them exploit their resources and/or the resources of developing States. TT should hire the expertise of others to assist with the development of the country's resources for the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider CARICOM.

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