Word still awaited on energy rebound
Natural gas, the veritable lifeblood of the T&T economy, has not been flowing as expected, from the offshore wells, downstream to liquefaction, processing and other Point Lisas industries that rely on its availability for use as feedstock. The figures show overall production declines in the energy sector, with the inescapable knock-on effects on Government revenue and on other economic activity.
Despite all this, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine has been projecting an upbeat posture toward both the present and the future of the industry over which he presides. He has to be seeing a bigger and more promising picture than that discerned by people who see only production declines, first, in crude oil, and now, more worryingly, in natural gas. His own is a picture that he needs, with ever more urgency, to share.
As Point Lisas industries and government revenue accountants feel the pain, production of natural gas, and of associated oil, fell sharply from late last year. That was when bpTT and BG both embarked on maintenance of their upstream apparatus and infrastructure—exercises scheduled to run till 2013.
The Energy Minister chooses to see this mind-numbing double whammy as a temporary and unavoidable setback for the industry, and for T&T generally. While both energy giants down production tools and tinker with maintenance kits, much of the rest of T&T have been left to wonder.
Was it as a result of bad projection, and worse communication, that the maintenance work and the implications appear to come as such a surprise? Was there no way for provisions to be made to cushion the shock effect on industries of less natural gas coming through supply pipelines?
BPTT, biggest player in the energy field, claims to have warned the Government well in advance of its maintenance focus and the likely consequences. By its reduction of "cushion gas" to tide things over, it also sent signals of the onset of a period for making do with less gas.
Less natural gas flowing downstream also combines with less associated oil and lower output of refinery products, adding up to a dread picture of energy sector decline, at a time of wider economic challenges.
The Energy Chamber, which naturally keeps watch on sector developments, has also declined to characterise the current production slowdowns with use of the S-word—"slump"—that nobody wants to hear. The Chamber last week cited a "significantly" busy programme of "development drilling and exploration activity", rising over the past 18 months, and amounting to "good leading indicators of the future prospects of the industry and of future oil and gas production."
Such are the rallying vital signs of an energy sector still flexing economic muscle. Clearly, the Government, and industry interests especially, must do more to assure an anxious public that the energy glass is promisingly half-full rather than despairingly half-empty.