By Raffique Shah
November 22, 2021
Maybe the headline of my column today should read instead, ‘Thanks, PM, for standing up for TT against immense odds’, which would surely incur the ire of a large number of citizens of this country who, I am convinced, bow their heads in hypocritical reverence every night when they communicate with their Gods, beseeching Her to cast failure after failure on the incumbent PNM government. Their bitter hatred for Keith Rowley is all that matters. It’s more than enough reason to create chaos, confusion and collapse, blame for which can be heaped on the said Rowley.
So when the PM came two weeks ago to announce the death of Atlantic LNG’s Train I, a pioneering plant that brought us some fame—it was the first of its kind in South America and the Caribbean, and the second in the Hemisphere—and significant fortune, like tens of billions of dollars since it started operations in 1999, rather than mourn its passing, there were many who cheered, celebrated its demise.
I should note here that way back, even before a decision was made (by the Patrick Manning government, I believe), I was very cautious about the venture. The citizenry was not familiar with the whole LNG business, and I thought we should not plunge into a relatively new natural gas venture that could end up failing. Also, when I studied the countries that were our competitors—Qatar, Russia, Iran, Australia and several others—they had multiple times our average of 13 trillion cubic feet in proven reserves. Qatar in particular was racing to expand its LNG production that aimed for the same markets we did—the USA, Japan, China, Korea and some European countries.
But then, I was never inclined to getting involved in business, which meant taking risks. In fact, my go-to expert on oil and gas is Gregory McGuire. And during the showdown over Dr Rowley’s insistence that Train I continue to be an integral part of our natural gas, with a battery of heavyweights in the media—my colleagues—having taken firm positions against the PM’s, they arguing that ‘we did not have the gas’—Gregory said otherwise.
He saw the PM as pursuing the country’s best interests by fighting with everything at his disposal to keep the Train operational. And when the PM finally abandoned his crusade, and my media colleagues beat up on him for ‘throwing away’ US 50 million dollars after a ‘lost cause’, Gregory lectured them on ‘risks’ in all business ventures, but never more than in the energy industries.
I shall add that I agree with Gregory over the PM’s intervention. You see, multinational corporations the size of BP, Shell, Exxon-Mobil, etc, are virtual states-within-states, at all times seeking their interests, not the client countries in which they operate, as good and charitable corporate citizens as they promote themselves to be.
One cannot fault them for taking such positions: they have shareholders to account to, they have to be mindful of the local politics and wider geopolitics of the regions in which they operate. And since what we are debating relate to the hydrocarbon giants who are under the global environmental and climate change microscopes, the BPs, the Shells, there are millions more reasons why we, and here I talk T&T, must also jealously, and with every fibre in our patriotic frames, seek and defend our national interests.
The PM is no fool. He did not forget that BP said in 2019 that given the failure of a main gas-production well, they could not find any ‘new gas’ for Train I. But isn’t it strange that an MNC like BP, having invested heavily in the Train a mere 20 years ago, and having reaped rich rewards, would now simply pull out of it? Something is not reading right here. Wouldn’t they have alternative resources to harness, to fill that billion-dollar void?
Which is why I support the PM pestering BP, harassing them until, hopefully, they got fed up with him and ran a ‘little something’, a 300 cubic feet per day that’s lying idle, that’s pocket change for them, but jobs and dollars for us.
A few final thoughts: I trust the naysayers are not unhappy with the Shell/L’Oran-Manatee agreement that Energy Minister Stuart Young hammered out last week. I know many of them dislike Young more than they do Rowley. I think the Young man has potential and he has the country’s interests at heart. I trust that he has alerted the Venezuelans to our interest in the seven trillion cubic feet of gas they have, for which they have no use over the next decade or so and which they can sell us at wellhead prices—and maybe we both get a little something, and maybe a bigger something.
We are too long in oil, gas and energy industries for anyone to ride roughshod over us, including Venezuela.