Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why Energy Minister must stand and deliver


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The curtain due to rise on tomorrow's Energy Conference should also enable a clearer picture through a spotlight falling on what T&T is doing to maintain and build its life-and-death energy industry. Or this is what Trinidad and Tobago and other participants are encouraged to expect from scheduled remarks by Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine.

Until now, much of what has come out of the mouths of Government spokespersons on energy has been upbeat. Energy remarks have tended to consist of policy back-slapping and God-is-a-Trini sentiments given rise to, for example, by "jubilee" oil finds and other portents of oil-and-gas good fortune.

T&T has long made the transition to being recognised as "gas-rich". Highly successful exploration, processing, export, and industrial utilisation of natural gas have highlighted T&T, in envious international eyes, as an energy promised land.

The world of energy, and the promises encouraged by latest developments, should have stimulated fresh thinking about T&T prospects in this all-important area. For it has remained the case that energy, both as blessing and curse, remains the direction T&T is encouraged to look for its immediate sustenance and future prosperity.

As Business Express columnist David Renwick has noted, however, the glory days of gas exportation, pioneered by Atlantic LNG in Point Fortin, are behind us. The world  has caught on and caught up with T&T prowess in LNG production and export. Now, no official here can credibly claim to exercise leverage on the basis of T&T's being, as it once was, the single most important supplier of liquefied natural gas to the US market.

Not only is the international gas market more competitive, but the Caribbean market is also targeted for powerhouse entry by US producers.  Meanwhile, in T&T, relevant officials have appeared to be newly refocused on oil. This remains an oil province that should be unremittingly explored and exploited as such.

But as Renwick has stressed, the matter of securing Caribbean markets for T&T natural gas—in liquid form, by pipeline, or as CNG (compressed and bottled)—has continued to be seen as pressing.

Public attention in T&T remains to be engaged by questions relating to the industry which, despite thinking and efforts about diversification, has remained the bread and butter of national economic well-being.

In short, for now, and for the conceivable future, T&T continues to need the benefits of all the oil and all the gas it can find and monetise. This is the background against which Energy Minister Ramnarine will tomorrow and thereafter address the rest of the world.

In this regard, the idea of an LNG plant smaller-scale than those in Point Fortin, designed for regional needs, is eminently worthy of earliest exploration. On this specific tomorrow, Energy Minister Ramnarine is expected to stand and deliver.