I wish Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley a full recovery. I condemn any celebration of his contracting Covid-19 or wish for his demise. I hope we recognise the dehumanising effect of the primitive politics we practise on both sides in Trinidad and Tobago.
As he resumed duties, Rowley faced the disappointment of an explosion at the NiQuan Energy Gas-to-Liquids plant which he had celebrated as a significant success of his administration. The plant is on the compound of the former Petrotrin refinery which Rowley shut down against advice from experts and his own chairman and board. But recognising the magnitude of its error, the Government wants desperately to restart the refinery—the “number one priority”, says the finance minister. The prime minister would have therefore been hoping for the GTL plant to bring some light to the darkness the closure brought on the nation’s revenue, the 10,000 persons who lost jobs directly and indirectly and the stagnation inflicted on fence-line communities. I have called it “the Petrotrin sin”.
The refinery provided our oil industry with a strategic advantage of an end-to-end value chain from extraction of oil to processing, refining and sale of fuels, bitumen, lubricants and other products. We now spend US$250 million annually of dwindling foreign exchange to import the very products the refinery once produced. Insane!
And Petrotrin was viable. Between 2010 and 2016 it made payments of $20.2 billion in taxes. Besides, Rowley met well advanced initiatives in Exploration and Production (E&P). This included identified drilling prospects from Petrotrin’s 3D seismic data in both its Land and Trinmar operations; three drilling rigs operating, two on land and one offshore; two workover rigs operating in Trinmar and a constructed Mobile Offshore Production Unit (MOPU)ready for deployment to Petrotrin’s Southwest Soldado Field in May 2016.
But the Government relinquished all three drilling rigs, its two Trinmar workover rigs and cancelled the MOPU contract. Why?! Then in February 2020, after four years of wasted opportunity, the same MOPU, with minimal modification, was deployed to Southwest Soldado and is already adding 3,000 barrels of oil per day to that field alone and not yet fully optimised. There was also a planned programme of platform repairs for Trinmar, and well-advanced Mature Field Rejuvenation programmes for the Barrackpore and Trinmar East fields. All discontinued! And Petrotrin had drilled a major discovery well, S-912, in the Southwest Soldado Field near the Venezuelan maritime border. This would have spurred further development for Southwest Soldado.
All these improvements and others would have saved Petrotrin. They will now be exploited by multinational EOG Resources in a joint venture contract with Heritage. In other words, Petrotrin prepared the feast for EOG to enjoy while the abandoned refinery remains rusting in the sun. Tragic.
And it gets even worse, for the Point Lisas Industrial Estate is headed to join the refinery on the dump heap with Rowley again the central figure. It was he who negotiated the higher gas price for up-streamers that, as I said years ago, threatens to turn the estate into another jungle of scrap iron. A full-blown crisis had erupted on the estate, with four plants shutting down in four months, high natural gas prices a principal factor in all shutdowns. Now Proman has idled its M4 and M5000 methanol plants for the same reason. This company has now shut down five plants, making it a total of seven plants now down at Point Lisas with Rowley the chief architect of demise.
The fact is Rowley’s high gas price makes our products uncompetitive. Four years ago, I warned the Government that fracking technology had uncovered the humongous gas reserves of the United States which was becoming a major destination for petrochemical companies, many migrating from other nations to access abundant cheap natural gas. The superpower became a premium exporter of LNG, ammonia, urea and methanol—all major earners of precious foreign exchange for Trinidad and Tobago.
Rowley “strenuously denied” he had negotiated the natural gas price. But in Parliament on April 12, 2017, he was boasting “we went to EOG and met around the table with the chairman and CEO of EOG Resources. We finally managed to agree at a price”. And in the budget debate on October 12, 2017, he narrated with pride that he told BP, “Your people have been stuck with my people; time for us to finish this matter,” and continued “Madam Speaker, I am proud that I closed the gap and I brought BP from where they were and I brought NGC from where they were and we had an agreement.” And he denies he was involved? Experts say he contributed very significantly to the compressed margins now being experienced by NGC. Production of gas is also the lowest in 16 years. Rowley would have demolished the natural gas and petrochemical industries, without which the nation sinks into deeper darkness.
I wish Keith Rowley a return to full health. But I cannot countenance his making our economy terminally ill by converting our Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and the Point Lisas Industrial Estate into two “macco” scrap-iron junkyards.