By Eve George
Caribbean News Now senior correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — With local reporters barred from entering the room to witness or ask questions about an agreement between the governments of Trinidad and Tobago’s and Venezuela to process and export natural gas from Venezuela’s Dragon gas field, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said the details of the deal are “confidential”.
The secret deal will allow Trinidad and Tobago to access gas through a direct line from Venezuela through a joint venture between energy giant Shell, the Venezuela state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) and local company National Gas Company (NGC), which will create the infrastructure.
Current US Treasury Department sanctions imposed on Venezuela, among other matters, prohibit transactions by a US person or within the US related to the sale, transfer, assignment, or pledging as collateral by the government of Venezuela of any equity interest in any entity in which it has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest.
In the absence of any detail, it is not known if the new agreement is an attempt to bypass US sanctions and designed to avoid the US banking system entirely, not an easy task in the energy industry.
Shell’s pipelines, including those in the North Coast Marine Acreage, will be used to transport Dragon’s gas to the Hibiscus platform off the northwest coast of Trinidad, some 11 miles (18 kilometers) away from the gas field. The Hibiscus platform is jointly owned by the Trinidad and Tobago government and Shell.
The signing of the agreement took place at the Placio de Miraflores in Caracas, with Trinidad and Tobago’s Cabinet ministers there as witnesses, including minister of energy, Franklin Khan; minister of foreign and CARICOM affairs, Denis Moses; minister of finance, Alyson West; minister of national security Stuart Young; and minister of sport Shamfa Cudjoe, as well as executives from Shell and NGC and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his officials.
“What we have witnessed is the coming together, in a situation which existed for two years but which has now come to the fore, to be operationalised for the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the people of Venezuela. Geologically we are connected and historically we have used our hydrocarbon resources as the engines of both of our economies. There have been many changes, some for the better some for the worse but in recent times under current leadership, there has been a tendency to cooperate.
“Trinidad and Tobago is an exporter of natural gas. Venezuela’s resources of natural gas have never been an input but, after today, Venezuela’s gas will come to the international market to be monetized for the benefit of the people of Venezuela and with that being said, the sky is the limit,” Rowley said.
The first tranche of Dragon’s production will yield about 150 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (mmscfd), or 26,505 barrel of oil equivalent per day (boed). For comparison, the state-owned Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin) produces 43,000 barrels of oil per day and 130 mmscfd. The BPTT Juniper well, which commenced production in late 2017, produces about 590 mmscfd.
The Dragon field is part of the Mariscal Sucre natural gas complex off the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, and near the epicentre of Tuesday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake. Dragon is just one of the fields in a total acreage reserve of 14.7 trillion cubic feet (TCT) of gas. Dragon alone contains 2.4 tct.
Meanwhile, local media are questioning why there was the need for such secrecy over the terms of the agreement when it is taxpayer dollars of Trinidad and Tobago that are involved in the project.
This is the second time in recent days that local reporters have been barred from important meetings, after the media was prevented from witnessing or asking questions about discussions between Rowley and Young and executives from Sandals Resorts, which is involved in a controversial new hotel project in Tobago.
After the Dragon deal was signed, Caribbean News Now was furnished with a leaked video of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores apparently celebrating at the Presidential Palace in Caracas.