Fri | Apr 20, 2018

Elizabeth Morgan | Oil, gas and Caribbean integration

Published:Wednesday | March 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In an online search last Friday, March 16, I came upon an article announcing that significant oil and gas deposits had been found offshore Grenada.

Prior to that, it was reported that major oil and gas deposits (seven, so far) had been found in Guyana by ExxonMobil, which could yield up to 500,000 barrels per day.

I grew up knowing only of oil and gas resources in Trinidad and Tobago. I later learnt that Barbados had oil and gas and that since 2005, Belize has been drilling oil from small deposits. I was always aware of exploration in Jamaica by the PCJ, which now appears to have greater optimism for an oil and gas find with the Tullow Oil collaboration. I have noted also that there are explorations ongoing in Suriname, The Bahamas and Cuba.

Thus, the Caribbean could be on the verge of becoming a region with widespread oil and gas production. I am not sure many persons are aware of the significance of these developments for the economies of the region.

 

DISADVANTAGE IN MARKET

 

In Jamaica, the manufacturers have tended to focus mainly on the energy subsidies applied by Trinidad and Tobago to benefit its population. The manufacturers have stated that these subsidies have placed them at a disadvantage in the marketplace. The reality is that most oil- and gas-producing countries subsidise energy to their population. These subsidies are not challenged under the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, as they are not applied specifically to any one sector or industry, as required by the WTO's definition of a subsidy.

It is noted, however, that after years of concern expressed by analysts within T&T and the International Monetary Fund about the cost to the T&T government of the subsidies, that government, in 2016, decided to reduce the fuel subsidies as global oil prices were declining. Trinidad and Tobago is now seeking to work with Guyana in the development of its oil and gas industry. It is noted that Guyana has opened a high commission in Port of Spain.

It is now important for us in Jamaica, while we do our own explorations, to also be aware of the developments within CARICOM and the wider Caribbean. Within the CARICOM Council for Trade and Development (COTED), energy ministers should be considering how the region as a whole will manage and effectively utilise energy resources not only for the good of the individual nations, but for the region as a whole. They may need to review the 2013 CARICOM Energy Policy to ensure that it addresses the current realities of the Caribbean.

 

A REGIONAL APPROACH

 

It was noted that Barbados, in a 2017 article, called for a regional approach to oil and gas exploration. Possessing oil and gas should aid economic integration and not be a source of division.

Increasing oil and gas resources cannot mean that the region places less emphasis on renewable energy resources. This remains critical to the long-term sustainable development of the region, taking account of climate change and maintaining fragile ecosystems. It is thus noted that CARICOM is establishing a Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

We need to pay careful attention to the developments in the energy sectors in the Caribbean, given their importance to production, technological advancement, transportation, competitiveness, trade and the environment. This should be one of the priority issues on the agendas of CARICOM heads of government and energy ministers.

- Elizabeth Morgan is a writer with interest in energy and foreign-affairs matters. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.