How many of my readers are aware that Chevron Corporation, the second largest petroleum company in the United States, actually operates in Trinidad and Tobago?
Not many, I would wager, because the company, which entered the local energy patch when it acquired the assets of Texaco many moons ago, has, apparently by design, adopted a very low profile.
This has always struck me as strange, since Chevron is actually the nominated operator of a gas discovery in block 6d, called Manatee, in which around 1.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of proven natural gas reserves reside.
The presumed explanation for the US giant's reluctance to emerge from the shadows is that in all the other offshore blocks in which it is involved – 6b, 5a and E – it is the non-operating partner to BG Trinidad and Tobago, which has naturally tended to attract the spotlight for that reason.
Chevron's role in block 6d elevates it into a position of unusual importance, since Manatee is an integral part of the cross border accumulation of as much as eight tcf of gas, which includes the Loran discovery on the Venezuelan side in block 2, part of what the Venezuelans call their Plataforma Deltana region, north east of the Orinoco delta.
Since Chevron has long been the operator for the Loran discovery in block 2, which it holds 39 per cent – 61 per cent with Venezuelan state firm, PdVSA, it appeared logical to its partner, BG T and T and to the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs (MEEA) for it to do the same on the Trinidad and Tobago side.
After all, the whole point of a cross-border discovery and the unitisation of reserves which follows, is that it be developed as one entity. BG T and T is still the operator of block 6d as a whole and will, one assumes, be in control of any non-cross border finds that may be made in the rest of the block in future, if any.
So far, so good. But the obvious question then arises: why doesn't Chevron get a move on and proceed to develop the unitised discovery, since Trinidad and Tobago, if not Venezuela, certainly needs the production that would result.
The short answer is that it can't, because at the time of writing, it had not yet been officially appointed unit operator for the cross-border development, though it is clearly the obvious choice, already being operator for the two individual discoveries.
And why hasn't it been so appointed? Because a body called the Unit Directing Committee, which comprises both the Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuelan governments and the three companies involved, has not yet got around to doing so.
Forgive me for confusing you but yet another group, by name of the Special Multi-Disciplinary Committee, which is composed of government nominees, was supposed to meet with the Joint Steering Committee, the overall entity for cross-border development, to finally agree on the unit operator.
If they did meet and if they did select Chevron, no one has told us anything about that.
As you can imagine, Chevron and obviously BG T and T as well, must be getting pretty impatient with all this delay. Its been donkey's years now since both discoveries were made and the valuable gas reserves they contain remain firmly buried underneath the seabed, returning no value to anybody. I would describe that as the complete waste of a potential major income-generating resource, almost in the same league as the reputedly billions of barrels of stranded crude oil that lie in hundreds of not-yet-depleted reservoirs throughout south Trinidad.
Heaven knows, Trinidad and Tobago could do with gas production from new sources right now, to cater for the renewal of contracts with the existing gas-using industries at Point Lisas and for supplying new plants that are on the cards.
Now what does Chevron itself think about all this?
Well, the company did finally agree to break its silence and talk to me exclusively and I recently interviewed Ron Lubojacky, general manager, Eastern Venezuela, Chevron Global Technology Service Co, whose remit includes Trinidad and Tobago and Fred Eastwood, country manager, Trinidad and Tobago (and don't ask him whether he's related to Clint – he's tired of the question).
Lubojacky makes no secret of the fact that Chevron would "like to be" the operator for the unitised development of cross-border gas.
In anticipation of that, it has already gone ahead and prepared a schematic for the unitised project, which would involve four platforms – two for drilling, one with quarters for the work crew on site and one to process the gas produced. Flow lines would have to be built into Trinidad waters, most likely to the new Dolphin B platform which BG T and T, the operator in this case and Chevron, plan to erect as a compression structure for the producing wells in block 6b.
Eastwood points out that Dolphin B "isn't primarily for Manatee-Loran, so much as an additional platform in the East Coast Marine Area (ECMA) asset to fully deplete the currently producing Dolphin field but it could serve as a bit of a hub for gathering gas from the cross border fields."
He stresses: "We have pretty much well defined the upstream work necessary for the Manatee/Loran development. We've been active in terms of high resolution 2D seismic surveys for a possible pipeline route and have also done feasibility assessments. Manatee/Loran is a shallow reservoir with water depths being only a few hundred feet. We will need compression from day one since the gas reservoir pressure is low, because its shallow. That's the only complexity in the development. Other than that, its very low risk, simple not technically challenging."
Of course, the multi-million dollar question you are inevitably asking is: where will the unitised gas be sent for monetisation?
That's not a straightforward matter because, according to its licence with the Venezuela government, 90 per cent of the gas found in Loran must go to the mainland for conversion into LNG for export.
But Venezuela has recently officially stated that it is not proceeding with LNG for the time being, preferring to devote its gas to domestic needs.
The 6.2 tcf in Loran is far in excess of any domestic requirement in Venezuela so might Caracas agree to let some of its share come to Trinidad?
Lubojacky hedges his bets on that one. "There are some unique needs by both Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela in this matter," he observes. "We know Venezuela has suspended its LNG plant for now but it does have need for gas. The way I see it right now is that, under the unitisation, Venezuela will want its share and Trinidad and Tobago will want its share. But I think the governments still need to get together and decide what will provide them with most flexibility in the future."
David Renwick was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) in 2008 for the development of energy journalism in Trinidad and Tobago.