Energy cooperation MoU to be signed between Guyana, Trinidad soon –Energy Minister

Franklin Khan

A long-delayed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Guyana and Trinidad on energy cooperation is expected to be signed in the coming weeks, according to Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Energy, Franklin Khan.

“The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is due to sign a memorandum of energy cooperation in the coming weeks, most likely there in Georgetown,” Khan told Sunday Stabroek via telephone.

The minister did not go into the details of the agreement and said that would be disclosed after the signing. He, however, emphasised that his government is willing to offer its assistance as this country prepares for first oil. “When the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is in Guyana, yes we will offer help and advice to the Government of Guyana on your emerging oil and gas sector and obviously seek their concurrence…,” Khan said.

No official from government was available for comment or to give details on what the agreement would contain. Minister of State Joseph Harmon, who is the minister responsible for oil and gas matters, was out of the country and would not be back until next week, his office said. Several calls to the recently-appointed Head of the Department of Energy, Dr Mark Bynoe, went unanswered.

Since 2016, discussions commenced between Guyana and Trinidad on an MoU under which the latter would provide various forms of support to the oil and gas sector in Guyana. Initiated during a visit here in 2016 by a Trinidad and Tobago delegation led by the then Energy Minister Nicole Olivierre, the MoU was expected to be signed at the end of that year but that did not happen. At the time, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman had said that the pact would see Guyana receiving support in a range of areas, including advanced technical training for local personnel in the industry.

News of the proposed energy cooperation agreement between Georgetown and Port-of-Spain comes days after the Trinidad and Tobago government inked an agreement with Venezuela to import natural gas from the Spanish-speaking country. That agreement would see the twin-island republic purchasing some 150 million standard cubic feet of natural gas per day from Venezuela’s prolific Dragon Field.

Meanwhile, sources told Sunday Stabroek that it has been suggested to government that Guyana “takes a stake in the Petrotrin refinery and in this way acquire a strategic asset.” In that way, according to one source, Guyana could have its share of oil from the agreement with ExxonMobil and affiliates refined closer to home and secure jobs for persons in both countries.

Last Tuesday, it was announced that Petrotrin’s refining and marketing operations would be shuttered. With TT$8 billion in losses in the past five years and a bullet payment of US$850 million due in 2019, Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet had said that terminating its refining and marketing operations and retrenching 1,700 permanent and casual employees was the only way to save the company after 100 years of operations in the industry. Petrotrin also has a TT$12 billion debt and owes the Trinidad Government more than TT$3 billion in taxes and royalties.

According to the Trinidad Guardian newspaper, the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) leader, Ancel Roget, had warned that the refinery will be sold to private investors, but Espinet had dismissed this, saying, “There is no likelihood of that refinery being sold.”

Khan told Stabroek News that Petrotrin’s closure does “not really” affect the opportunity for Guyana to still look to T&T to refine its oil or look elsewhere. “We have decided to close the refinery because of its present configuration and cost structure. It is losing money and it’s not sustainable in its current form,” he said. “However, other business models could be proposed,” he added.   

‘Mindful’

But while it is still early to tell what the Guyana and Trinidad government will decide, a source said, “Guyana may gain a controlling or sizeable share and develop refining capacity and meet many of the outcomes from having a refinery without having to pay as much. Additionally, we can ensure that a percentage of labour is Guyanese who will have to be trained and also we can address some CARICOM integration goals.” 

A government official believes that Guyana has to be mindful of such a move, given the recent agreement Trinidad inked with Venezuela and this country’s longstanding border controversy with Venezuela. “We have to be mindful of a growing relationship between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago and won’t want to compromise our energy security by having the asset in a nation where the government grows uncomfortably close with our main detractor…Venezuela may try to influence the [Trinidad and Tobago’s] relationship with Guyana,” the official said.

Khan was asked about possible perceptions and future implications of his country’s agreement with Venezuela but would only say, “We know of all the geopolitics and so on and will answer those questions then.” As to whether the government of Guyana ever discussed acquiring a stake in the now defunct Petrotrin refinery with Port-of-Spain, Khan said neither him nor his government has ever had that discussion.

Currently, it is still unclear what government would do with its share – about 14 percent – of profit oil from 2020 onwards, from its profit sharing agreement with ExxonMobil. As of last year, before the Department of Energy was formed, Trotman had ruled out this country investing in an oil refinery.

“We have done some studies on the feasibility of an oil refinery. We have opened that study for public debate and discussions…  Government has concluded that it, as a government, cannot spend US$5 billion dollars in an oil refinery,” he had said.

The US$5 billion sum he referred to was the figure that Director of Advisory Services at Hartree, Pedro Haas, had told government it would cost to build a refinery here. Haas was hired by the David Granger-led APNU+AFC government to carry out a feasibility study for an oil refinery in Guyana. From his analysis, the cost to construct such a facility would be some US$5 billion, with at least half the invested amount lost upon commissioning.

ExxonMobil was asked by this newspaper if it has decided on a refining company to whom it would sell its share of crude. Through its Public and Government Affairs Officer Deedra Moe, the company responded: “We sell crude oil on the open market. ExxonMobil has an equity crude oil marketing group – an integrated operations, logistics and trading team – that operates around the world and is responsible for marketing ExxonMobil’s global production of crude oil and condensates.”

And while Guyana prepares for first oil in 2020, the government of the US Virgin Islands last month approved a proposed US$1.4-billion operating agreement between itself and Arclight Capital Partners LLC, Boston, to restart the former Hovensa Refinery at Limetree Bay, St Croix. The refinery is scheduled for opening by the end of 2019. With an initial crude processing capacity of about 200,000 barrels per day according to the USVI government, the investment is expected to create 1,200 local jobs during construction and as many as 700 permanent jobs upon restarting the facility. The Hovensa refinery was a joint venture between Hess Corporation and Petroleos de Venezuela until it closed in 2012.

Hess is one of the partners in ExxonMobil’s 6.6 million acres Stabroek Block operations, which last week announced its ninth oil discovery.

Moe was asked if ExxonMobil was looking at refining in St. Croix and responded, “I am not aware of anything regarding St. Croix.”

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