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Govt seeks to boost revenues

By SEAN DOUGLAS Friday, February 13 2009

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ENERGY Minister Conrad Enill is seeking new sources of crude oil from tar-sands in an effort to maintain this country’s oil revenues in light of sustained low oil prices.

The failure of world oil prices to bounce back from their sustained doldrums of hovering at around US$40 per barrel has caused the Government to explore tar-sands for the first time ever which Enill calculates could double this country’s oil-reserves. The price yesterday was US$34.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning in two televised addresses to the nation last year blamed lower prices of commodities such as oil and natural gas for wiping $8.3 billion off the projected revenues of this year’s $50 billion Budget. Since predicating the Budget on oil at US$70 per barrel, he has twice downwardly revised this figure, respectively to levels of US$55 and now US$45.

Enill told yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s that Cabinet had agreed to licence Petrotrin to explore tar-sands at the Parrylands/Guapo Field, just south of the La Brea Pitch Lake.

Enill said that while the last estimate of the country’s total reserves of conventional or heavy-oil was two billion barrels, the tar-sands were estimated to hold about two billion barrels in the form of extractable bitumen. He said the licence would let Petrotrin quantify the exact size of the reserves and determine how much bitumen was recoverable, including identifying the technology to extract bitumen and then produce synthetic crude-oil, plus the potential risks involved to the environment such as local aquifers.

The study would also determine the project’s financial feasibility.

Enill advocated “increasing production with a view to maintaining revenue stability over the medium to long-term.”

He said the former high price levels for crude-oil had led to tar-sands becoming viable sources of oil in Canada.

However, while Enill said Trinidad and Tobago was trying to follow the Canadian model of extraction from the Alberta tar-sands, reports are that this source is being opposed by environmentalists who say the extraction involves an unacceptably large amount of energy and leaves a large carbon footprint.

The extraction of oil from tar-sands involves a greater financial cost and does more harm to the environment than pumping out traditional crude oil, with some reports saying that separating the oil out of the sand generates three times as much of the greenhouse gas, carbon-dioxide, than pumping out conventional oil.

In light of the fact that the US Congress last year passed a law — Section 526 of the Energy Independence And Security Act —banning US federal agencies using oil from tar-sands, and speculation that Obama administration could impose a national ban on this “dirty fuel”, Newsday asked Enill if anyone would actually buy the tar-sand oil from Trinidad and Tobago.

Enill replied that the licence would allow Petrotrin to do a study to find out the answers to these questions, including identifying suitable technology to address the environmental question, and to cost the project.

“On that basis we will determine whether it makes sense. Well, the study we are doing suggests there is an opportunity, there is a requirement and a need for it, and certainly what we would want to do is to understand these issues before we make the investment decision.”

He vowed that the Government was serious about environmental pollution, as they are putting into place laws such as Air Pollution Rules.

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