The much-hyped audit of Trinidad and Tobago's natural gas reserves by the United States' Ryder Scott Co relating to year-end 2011, released the week before last, showed only a minimal (two per cent) decline in the proven category from 13,460 billion cubic feet (bn cf) in 2010 to 13,257 bn cf last year.
While the "probable reserve" figure went down – from 7,642 bn cf to 6,035 bn cf - the "possible" was actually up, from 5,995 bn cf to 6,158 bn cf.
Perhaps most heartening of all was the unrisked exploratory resources number: it jumped up from 25,978 bn cf at the end of 2010 to 30,452 bn cf a year later.
I have always tried to emphasise to my four or five readers that this is really the key indicator in the whole exercise. Never mind the proven or even probable and possible reserve estimates at a particular point in time: if you don't have potential for future discoveries — which is what "unrisked exploratory resources means" — then the gas industry will eventually wither and die.
Fortunately, Trinidad and Tobago is not likely to suffer that fate because these "exploratory resources" are already being explored and with a prognosis for a favourable outcome.
You will recall our Energy and Energy Affairs Minister Kevin Christian Ramnarine's statement to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) conference in June this year that the current work programmes taking place in blocks NCMA 2, NCMA 3, NCMA 4 and 4b could potentially confirm gas availability in the range of 4.29-9.03 trillion cubic feet (tcf), which is the ministry's estimate or 6.06-20.28 tcf, which is the estimate of the companies themselves (Niko Resources, RWE Dea, Petrotrin and Centrica Energy).
The 5d block to the southeast of Trinidad, which BG has just taken over, is said by the company itself to have a potential resource endowment of over five tcf. And that's not all. The two deepwater blocks so far released to the private sector – 23a and TTDAA 14 (to the bp exploration operating company) are themselves said to enjoy potential of 4.7-8.2 tcf (ministry calculation) or 0.5-8.8 tcf (bp's figures).
Even if all of those estimates are only half right, Trinidad and Tobago's much-acclaimed gas-based industrialisation programme will continue well into the future, once investors can be ensnared, though the same, however, can not be confidently said about oil, where we are all hoping for the best.
MEEA has gone ahead quietly, without telling anybody, and engaged US consultants, Netherland Sewell, to undertake an update audit on our oil reserves, so that will at least yield reliable information on where "unrisked exploratory potential" may lie in that area. The consultants may find that there is clearly "risk" in identifying new conventional oil reserves but little by way of the reserves or resources, call them what you will, for heavy crude and tar sands.
They exist: the only "risk" is in the development of these "unconventional" crudes at a commercial price and being able to refine them. Venezuela has proved it can do both, so we should certainly be able to follow suit.
So what's the conclusion from all this?
That the "sustainable development" of the gas sector, at least is more or less assured, though oil remains problematic.
But, of course, employing the word "sustainable" in the context of hydrocarbon energy is not de rigueur these days.
Indeed, the term, as now widely used by all and sundry, refers specifically to renewable energy (RE) and, in so far as hydrocar- bons are taken into account at all, to the more "efficient" application of such fuels.
"Sustainable energy" equals RE plus EE.
Even the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, at its Fifth Conference at the Hilton hotel this week, has, with due deference to the fixations of the times, made sure to include "alternative energy" as one of the themes to be examined. "Sustainable energy" is, indeed, now a subject that forms the basis of conferences all on its own.
The Caricom Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana – a country that is, perhaps ironically, in full exploratory mode for hydrocarbons at this very moment – is taking the lead again this year in organising the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum, which is being held in St. Kitts on September 13 and 14.
The government of Finland, no less, is also a key part of the planning for the conference, which is actually the third of its kind.
At least two representatives from Finland will be present and, as an indication of how much the rest of the world wishes to see the Caribbean become more "sustainable energy" conscious, delegates from at least 23 other countries are expected to attend.
As is well known, the energy unit of the Caricom Secretariat, under the managership of mechanical engineer Joseph Williams, has been running with a programme it calls C-SERMS, which stands for Caribbean Sustainable Energy Road Map and Strategy, since 2008, when the price of oil reached unprecedented levels and caricom members were, in Mr Williams's words, "almost at a panic stage."
Even Trinidad and Tobago is getting into the act and last October participated with evident enthusiasm in the "energy week" which Caricom is promoting on an annual basis. A "mobile renewable energy caravan," arranged by the ministry, was taken around the country, with the theme "promoting sustainability through smarter energy sources."
It could be considered strange, therefore, that no official representative from this country is listed to attend the Sustainable Energy Forum in St Kitts.
Dr Devon Gardner, the Dean of the School of Science and Technology at the University of the Southern Caribbean in Maracas Valley, appears to be the only local attendee and he is presumably going in behalf of his own institution.
What progress is being made by the C-SERMS project, if any, will possibly be outlined by Williams at the forum. So far, like most Caricom activities outside of the heads of government conferences, this has remained a closely-guarded secret, further evidence that the communications outreach of the Secretariat is nothing short of abysmal.
The energy unit, by the way, is also responsible for the "finalisation", as it calls it, of the long-mooted Caricom Energy Policy, which has been at least nine years in the making, and of which C-SERMS is presumably an integral part.
It would seem that the "Caricom energy policy" is on course to focussing solely on "sustainable energy" and virtually ignoring the fossil fuel part of it, which will continue to be dominant, despite the best efforts of the Secretariat, for many moons to come.
If Guyana, Suriname and the rest ever discover reserves of oil or gas offshore, you can bet your bottom dollar that "sustainability" will take a back seat.
A convincing example is the way Caribbean utilities are now urgently opting for natural gas in power generation.
It's true this is only replacing another fossil fuel, oil, but no one hears them clamouring for renewable energy to do it instead, does one?
David Renwick was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) in 2008 for the development of
energy journalism in
Trinidad and Tobago.