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Oil and Gas Law Conference looks at sector’s use of local content

VERNE BURNETT Thursday, June 15 2017

The Energy Conference staged annually by The Energy Chamber enjoys a prestigious position on the roster of local business conferences, but Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, believes that a “law space” is still needed to discuss key issues about oil, gas and energy.

She says last week’s Second Oil and Gas Law Conference at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre was testimony to the abiding faith of the faculty in the oil and gas sector in this country and the region. Antoine said just last year the faculty was worrying whether the conference would lose “some of its buzz” but this year it was “re-energised not to mention bpTT’s recent gas finds in this country.” She added that while the faculty fully supports the need for diversification, it believes that the oil and gas sector remains a key industry in the country and the region and decided to continue staging the conference. Day One of the two-day conference was themed Exploring the legal framework for Oil and Gas Law, while the second day focused on The Trinidad Experience: Setting the Context and Lessons Learnt.

She said when the first conference was held three years ago, it was because of the faculty’s recognition that the oil and gas and energy sector is a deeply significant one and the faculty needed to be at the forefront of developing its jurisprudence and scholarship. She said despite the short time since that first conference, it had grown, and in addition to an impressive roster of participants from this country it had also attracted participation regionally as well as internationally. She said the first Oil and Gas Conference was a resounding success and confirmed the view that a law space to discuss key issues about oil, gas and energy is sorely needed in the region. “What better institution than the University of the West Indies, the thought leader in the region, and primary research and scholarship engine to initiate and guide this.” In addition, she said recent oil and gas discoveries in the region had seen several territories trying to develop their own oil and gas industries, with Guyana being the most significant. The UWI Law faculty believed it had an obligation to offer intellectual leadership to these efforts and equally that the conference should pay “some attention to helping to build the capacity of Guyana’s sector,” a view she said was happily shared by the faculty’s stakeholders. She said the fact that the conference chairman, Alicia Elias-Roberts is Guyanese, seemed to suggest that “all of the pieces were coming together.” She said the focus of the second conference, held from June 8-9, was on local content in the oil and gas sector and examined the extent to which the sector was making use of local labour, goods and services. “It is essential to project the role of local content within the broader socio-economic goals of the country. The government must seek to create value beyond the petroleum sector itself and must access resources and capability.

A comprehensive understanding of the role and principles of this local content is therefore vital.” The conference also looked at the good governance issues in management of energy resources which she said were always important: issues such as preventing and curbing corruption and the “particular weaknesses” of emerging economies where this was concerned. According to Antoine, the issue was centered around the need to develop a “technocratic management elite” in an emerging economy which would be independent from political influence. A team that would be able to manage the oil and gas resources for the nation, as opposed to a political elite operating in collusion with global energy producers to further their own interests at the expense of the society they are supposed to serve. She pointed to Brazil as an example. She said the conference would provide lessons for non-lawyers, adding, “Of course I am not suggesting that lawyers don’t need to know about corruption and the like or do not act in their own self-interest, but we are inclusive – it is multi-disciplinary.” The conference also explored the role of environmental accounting and regulations in shale gas exploration.

The conference has been attracting increasing interest from foreign universities, international organisations and many top law firms in the region. There was a delegation from Coventry University in the United Kingdom, including some of the top lecturers in the university’s Law faculty as well as some students. Antoine said the UWI Faculty of Law has a Memorandum of Understanding with Coventry University.

She welcomed back bpTT as the premiere sponsor of the conference, noting that the company was a sponsor of the first conference. In fact, she said the company was more than a sponsor but a mentor as well, and thanked the other sponsors, Shell and EOG resources.

Giselle Thompson, vice president, Corporate Operations at bpTT, seconded Antoine’s view that despite the need for Trinidad and Tobago to advance its diversification, the oil and gas sector remained important as a bridge in that transition. She said bpTT had benefitted from this country’s stable political and legal environment, as well as its broad commitment to the sanctity of contracts. She said bpTT had recently announced the conclusion of negotiations with the National Gas Company (NGC) for a new gas sales agreement to replace a 20-year agreement which expires in 2018. “This agreement is important because it was a prerequisite to continued investments, the first of which is the Angelin Project.

In the long term, it will serve as the basis for future investment decisions.” She added that bpTT’s recent announcement of the discovery of two trillion cubic feet of natural gas in its Savannah and Macadamia exploration wells served to underscore the point that this country continues to have a strong future in the energy sector. “Success in exploration, the completion of key agreements and the sanction of our latest project, Angelin, set a strong platform for activity and growth over the medium to long term. With these projects, along with activities by other operators in the sector, it is important for us as a country to continue to strengthen the legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that they are responsive to the needs of the industry and that the country derives maximum benefits.” She said that future success also depended on strengthening collaboration across the sector and progress was already being made in this area through the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Upstream Operators Association. Stronger collaboration across the sector, she said, will allow everyone to improve efficiencies and reduce waste and costs as the industry tried to reset its operations to survive in a very tough energy world.

Head of Legal for Shell Trinidad and Tobago, Michael Short, said that oil and gas companies in this country, working with the government, are radically rethinking and retooling to find significant opportunities to reverse the current declines in production. He said their successes were highlighted in recent headlines, and oil and gas lawyers, such as those attending the conference, had a chance to work on those projects and to make a difference and ensure that Trinidad secures the energy future for the next generation.

The organisers of the conference did manage to attract a lawyer from Guyana, barrister at law, Nigel Hughes, a partner in the firm Hughes Fields and Stoby. Stoby is also director of the Guyana Oil and Gas Association, a body he formed to ensure the responsible development of Guyana’s new oil and gas industry. He urged the conference to understand and forgive, the “muted enthusiasm” of the citizens of Guyana who are uncertain whether the country has the capacity to efficiently manage and protect the newly found energy resource for the short, medium and long-term benefits of the country and the region. He said outside Guyana there is wild excitement over the historic oil and gas discovery at Liza and the potential for even greater discoveries. However, he said the reality was that Guyana has no history of managing oil and gas and has set itself the “rather ambitious” target of beginning production between 2019 and 2020, a decision which “may have been driven by considerations other than the best expert industry advice.” He said this was exactly why the Guyanese people deeply appreciate and hope to benefit from Trinidad and Tobago’s long history and experience in the oil and gas industry and from the Oil and Gas Conference. “The need for collaboration and synergies is selfevident.”

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