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Developing Hydro-Carbon Co-operation with Venezuela
Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

British Energy Secretary, Brian Wilson during his important October visit to T&T last year highlighted the geo-strategic imperative that T&T should deliberately embark upon early initiatives to develop and sustain economic co-operation with our neighbour Venezuela in the marine off-shore hydrocarbon sector. Refining a miniscule amount of Petrovenís crude at Petrotrinís Refinery leaves much more to be done at the bilateral level in deepening hydrocarbon co-operation with Venezuela.

I welcome the article written by David Renwick entitled, Dealing with Cross-Border Gas in the Business Guardian of 17 Jan.p.2.

Energy Secretary Wilson referred to the co-operation successfully achieved by the North Sea riparian states (UK/Norway) in hydrocarbon exploitation for the benefit of their peoples without being unduly constricted and overawed by conventional notions of maritime sovereignty and jurisdiction.

From a locational/transportational perspective Venezuela is part of the geographic hinterland of T&T when viewed against the PLIPDECOíS Orinoco-Apure Project, the South Chamber of Commerce Carapito-Maturin and other bilateral transportation initiatives.

Venezuela has recently awarded exploration licenses to several multi-nationals that are also based in T&T, including BP and Mobil, to facilitate the conduct of initial seismic surveys in the marine offshore areas of the Orinoco Delta preparatory to determining the viability of economic exploitation. Hence the urgent need for the Government of Venezuela to outlaw Cedros fishermen from conducting their traditional shrimping activities in the canos (Special Fishing Areas) of the Orinoco Delta under the terms of the current TT- Venezuela Fishing Agreement. Fishing nets can be entangled with seismic cables drawn by vessels.

T&T must awake from its self-induced slumber and complacency and appreciate the value of its geo-strategic location in relation to potential Venezuelan oil and gas fields located on the Orinoco Delta. The huge gravel deposits at Wallerfield are not the only benefits bequeathed to T&T by the Orinoco River when Trinidad was geographically joined to the South American mainland.

The TT/Venezuela Maritime Boundary Delimitation Agreement ratified in October 1991, provides for the joint exploration/exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits which straddle or which lie within 500 metres on either side of the bilateral boundary up to a distance of 192 nautical from Point Galeota. The South-East Coast Marine Areas contain prolific hydrocarbon reservoirs.

It is therefore in the long and short term interest of T&T to adopt a co-operative strategy with Venezuela not only for facilitating joint hydrocarbon exploration but also to continue jointly to impact on the configuration of further maritime boundaries to be agreed upon respectively between T&T and Grenada, St.Vincent, Barbados and between T&T and Venezuela jointly and the International Seabed Authority located in Jamaica.

The marshy, unstable and swampy terrain of the Orinoco Delta hinterland is totally unsuited to providing the requisite stable land-base for mounting the off-shore hydrocarbon exploitation initiative in marine areas off the Orinoco Delta. The inevitable role of the S.W.Peninsula of Trinidad as a launching pad to initiate exploration/exploitation of the hydrocarbon potential of the off-shore Orinoco Delta is the only viable option. This hydrocarbon scenario could revitalise Cedros, Icacos and Bonasse villages away from economic dependence on the fledgling coconut and fishing industries.

The prospects for oil and gas to be derived from the off-shore Orinoco delta being pipelined directly to the Atlantic LNG and Petrotrin Refinery under processing agreements perhaps is what the British Energy Secretary foresaw. Hence his emphasis on downplaying ownership/sovereignty of intervening submarine hydrocarbon-rich areas and focussing instead on commercial exploitation of common resources for the equitable benefit of both countries.

Both countries should also take on board the expected strategic decisions to be embarked upon by the USA to diversify its sources of energy away from the Middle East to the more stable and less volatile oil-producing countries in Latin America. In view of recent events America will soon, if it has not already done so, realise that it pays an astronomical price for Middle East oil supplies. Middle East oil has left it susceptible and incrementally vulnerable to further terrorist attacks.

T&T can yet emerge as the 21st Century Curacao in terms of providing an export cum processing conduit for hydrocarbons derived from the Orinoco Delta. The oil giants operating in both countries will welcome the fiscal uniformity arising from the blurring and minimising of separate bilateral maritime and economic jurisdictions along the sinuosities of bilateral the maritime boundary which entered into force in 1991.

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