THE ANNOUNCEMENT last week by BP Trinidad and Tobago (BPTT) of the first natural gas from its Juniper platform is a welcome development in a sector that remains crucial to our economy.
But while many will see a glimmer of hope in the commensurate improvement of domestic gas production, that should not dissuade us from taking steps to diversify the economy.
All our eggs cannot be in one basket.
Juniper is BP’s first sub-sea field development in Trinidad and is located 80 km off the south-east coast in water approximately 110 metres deep.
The platform produces gas from the Corallita and Lantana fields. It is BPTT’s 14th offshore platform in Trinidad and its sixth to be constructed at the fabrication yard in La Brea.
According to Energy Minister Franklin Khan, the project represents an investment of approximately US$ 2 billion (TT$ 12.6 billion) by BPTT.
Juniper will have a gas production capacity of 590 million standard cubic feet per day (mscfd) augmenting BPTTs gas production which was boosted in April with the start of the Trinidad Onshore Compression Project (TROC). The TROC has provided incremental gas volumes of approximately 100 mscfd.
Both projects will assist in alleviating the current gas shortfall. And there may be more to come.
Khan said there are ongoing discussions with the company on development plans for recently announced gas discoveries in BPTT’s offshore, Macadamia and Savannah field.
The gas reserves are estimated at two trillion cubic feet. To monetise these and other resources, BPTT will invest approximately US$5 billion (TT$31.5) over the next five years.
These developments represent significant investments in the local economy. They further help bolster the revenue streams needed to fund vital public projects.
However, much work remains to be done when it comes to the State’s checks and controls on the petrochemical sector.
Encouraging investment in mega projects without adequately bolstering of systems in the Ministry of Energy to ensure proper auditing of output levels and receipt of taxation revenues is like encouraging more people to deposit their precious jewels in a bank without hiring enough security staff. It is reckless. And it is bad business.
Aside from the systems that are supposed to regulate the sector, there is also the matter of the long-term problems posed by the fossil fuel industry.
There are economic and moral reasons why Trinidad and Tobago should wean itself off of gas and oil. If it is not yet clear enough that being too dependent on one basket of commodities, then we do not know what else it will take for the message to sink through. The resources are here, yes, and until they are depleted we might as well harness them.
Yet, we have future generations to think about, generations that will need to be assured they will have a basic standard of living guaranteed so as to be able to flourish.
Having an economy precariously perched on global prices that fluctuate due to developments beyond our control is not in the interest of citizens.
The problem of climate change has also made the need to be more conscious about the environment even more urgent.
Though natural gas is cleaner than coal and oil, it still has an impact on the atmosphere.
Why are we not focusing on projects involving solar and wind power?
Juniper’s rise will provide a boost. But come next term, when Finance Minister Colm Imbert has to present his new budget, he will still not have an easy task.