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More caution due in new oil optimism

With Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day in mind, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar rang a bell to proclaim tidings of joy for Trinidad and Tobago. Her message told of timely and bounteous oil finds by State-owned Petrotrin.

That was the hard-news story, based on analyses and confirmations by energy experts. But the Prime Minister, not content to let the facts speak for themselves, editorialised: "God is a Trini!"

What prompted her thus to take the name of the Lord in vain were State-owned Petrotrin reports of "the largest potential find in the past decade...which may exceed 48 million barrels of oil".

Prospective output from that find is boosted by the 35 per cent share in the oil struck last month by Bayfield. When oil is finally flowing from both sources, "the collective amount would be 80 million barrels", Petrotrin said.

Spin specialists from Petrotrin and the Ministry of Energy combined to polish to a high gloss the promises of such "glory holes".

T&T has even been given a tagline for it all: the "Jubilee Discovery", marking the 50th Independence Anniversary.

T&T is thus being invited to celebrate oil-production hopes and expectations, and to dream of once again being "oil-rich".  

It seems unsatisfactory, however, that the Government is thereby seeking more to programme public opinion than to provide public information.

T&T has needed, even urgently, to find and produce more oil.

Business Express energy columnist David Renwick last month noted that oil production had fallen in December 2011 to less than 85,000 barrels a day. That level of output he judged to be "a disaster, depriving us of hundreds of millions of dollars more in gross domestic product (and) public sector revenue. Which means we are poorer, per capita, than we would otherwise be".

For T&T, for Petrotrin, and for energy-sector business, any oil find is a positive story. But from a prudently responsible administration, what is expected is optimism more cautious than is now being heard.

"Petrotrin has turned the corner and the company is turning around," said Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine.

The company, so recently profiled as overstaffed and undercapitalised, is suddenly "turning around", on the basis of two oil finds?  This take on events, so politically convenient, actually strains credulity.

Moreover, upbeat marketing words are apparently being put into the mouths of energy professionals. The company's advertorial assures that though it normally takes up to five years to produce oil newly found offshore, Petrotrin could start production in just 12 months.

Already, Mrs Persad-Bissessar is promoting plans for spending the oil income expected to accrue. If, as happened before, with then-ballyhooed BHP Billiton finds, this new prospect turns out to be too good to be true, there will be hell to pay—and a stern testing of the faith that "God is a Trini".

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