Friday, December 15, 2017

Letting a golden opportunity slip by


Andrew McIntosh

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Atlantic facility, Point Fortin

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My three or four readers will recall the moratorium I had placed on myself on January 4 in relation to writing about the emerging small and medium-sized LNG trade in the Caribbean and Central America and the absolute necessity for Trinidad and Tobago to be at the forefront of that business opportunity.

I had to break the moratorium in "Energy Insider" on February 15 and I am afraid I am now obliged to abandon it although, because there is increasing concern that Trinidad and Tobago is letting this golden chance slip out of its grasp through sheer indifference.

The local authorities are wholly to blame for this and I include under that indictment both the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs (MEEA) and the state-owned National Gas Co (NGC).

MEEA is culpable because it was supposed to "evaluate" the proposal put forward by GasFin Development SA of the UK for a "dedicated" mid-sized LNG plant on the Labidco industrial estate at La Brea.

Without that, Trinidad and Tobago would be unable to take advantage of any LNG trade in the region from a national perspective for the first time.

Of course, there is a brisk LNG trade taking place, mainly in the international arena, out of Atlantic in Point Fortin but national involvement in that is minimal, with almost all the volumes concerned being sold by the multi-nationals, such as BP, BG and RepsolYPF.

The "evaluation" mentioned above was first agreed to on November 4, 2011, in London, at a meeting attended by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Gasfin's CEO, Roland Fisher, accompanied by their various advisers.

MEEA was supposed to begin that process immediately. That was 132 days ago and up to the time Mr Fisher was last in Port of Spain, no such evaluation had yet commenced; certainly, he had not been invited to contribute to it.

Indeed, energy and energy affairs minister, Kevin Ramnarine, had indicated to him that he would like Fisher to present the same proposal he had made to the Prime Minister in London to the Cabinet's Standing Committee on Energy; that, too, had not yet taken place at the time the Gasfin CEO and myself last talked.

Since he was actually in town, it could easily have happened then but it didn't.

In energy matters in Trinidad and Tobago, nothing usually takes place unless the ministry gives it its blessing, so if the latter is not prepared to act in this matter, it is likely to fizzle out.

NGC must also share part of the responsibility for the current uncertainty because it was specifically named as a partner in the project in the press statement issued after the London meeting and is the obvious candidate to represent the "national" interest in regional LNG trading (it already performs this role in a smaller way in the Eastern Caribbean gas pipeline, where it holds ten per cent of the equity).

But NGC is in no position at the moment to take a firm hand in the regional gas trading project because its board made what was the wrong decision not to renew the contract of its president Andrew McIntosh for another two years, which would have provided the continuity at the top to come to grips with key initiatives, such as the emerging small and medium sized LNG market (not to mention the projects in Africa).

McIntosh knows all about LNG trading, having been a senior executive at Atlantic for many years and would have been able to position NGC to enter the business on its own account for the first time.

What we now have instead is the NGC board scrambling to find a new president, who is almost certainly going to be unfamiliar with the LNG business and therefore be in no position to contribute meaningfully to the project that Fisher is pushing for us to pursue.

MEEA inactivity and NGC's unpreparedness have not gone unnoticed among the potential customers for small and medium-sized LNG, I can assure you.

Here's the latest rundown:

The initial clients for Trinidad and Tobago's own "national" LNG plant that Fisher had identified when he first raised the matter with Selwyn Lashley of MEEA in February, 2009 (who apparently sat on it thereafter), which were the French departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe, have decided they can't wait on the "dedicated" LNG train and are busily undertaking negotiations with Atlantic's shareholders to obtain the 55 mmcfd or so, they will need for their new gas-fired turbines.

As Fisher told me in an exclusive interview: "I understand the French company, EdF, has been getting a very positive response from the offtakers of Atlantic and it has every confidence of concluding an agreement."

Chalk up one loss, or rather too, to the "dedicated" LNG production facility and NGC's potential customer base, in its capacity as an identified shareholder in such a plant and as the national entity to take Trinidad and Tobago down the LNG value chain.

Jamaica is lost too. The six companies that indicated their interest in supplying LNG did not include any "national" entity from Trinidad and Tobago.

The Dominican Republic has already signed an agreement with Cheniere Energy (through a company called Basic Energy) for LNG shipments of 600,000 tonnes a year from 2015 onwards.

Of course, Trinidad and Tobago, up to now, has been the exclusive LNG supplier to the Dominican Republic but will shortly have to yield that exclusivity. I have written a great deal about Cheniere in "Energy Insider" which is in the running to snatch some of the larger markets out of Trinidad and Tobago's grasp despite the fact that it hasn't even started building a single train yet.

The Bahamas, according to Fisher, "is already saying the US is its logical LNG supplier".

Cayman Islands market is being targeted by Colombia's Pacific Rubiales, the company that, like Cheniere, is moving in briskly where Trinidad and Tobago is completely ill-equipped at this moment to tread.

Aruba: Also looking to Pacific Rubiales for LNG.

Bermuda: Eyeing a US supplier, probably Cheniere, for its supply.

The very bad news for the pioneer of LNG exporting in the Caribbean and Latin America is that when a brand new niche market is suddenly emerging its own backyard, it is proving itself woefully unable, so far, at any rate, to take advantage of it through a national entity like NGC (not that Atlantic is not "national" but its foreign shareholders don't need the chance to get themselves into the LNG value chain they are already there).

With the exception of Martinique and Guadeloupe, (which face a short time frame for sewing up an LNG supply contract), it sees that everyone else in the emerging regional market has turned away from Trinidad and Tobago.

"All these markets are talking about the US or Colombia now and have stopped talking about Trinidad and Tobago," Fisher tells me, more in sorrow than in anger.

"They feel that its the US that will solve the gas supply issue because they can see no way of getting the small cargoes from Trinidad they would have liked to get."

Makes you want to cry, doesn't it?