Caribbean nations approve Trinidad-based regional subsea gas pipeline system

By an OGJ correspondent

PORT OF SPAIN, Oct. 18 -- Efforts are under way to promote development of a subsea natural gas pipeline system from Trinidad and Tobago northward through the Caribbean Sea and possibly ending on the North American mainland at Miami.

Already a prefeasibility study has been completed, and at a recent heads of government meeting of the 15-member Caribbean regional economic union, Caricom, the leaders agreed in principle to the project. Oil & Gas Journal was told that the initial intent is to take gas from the island of Trinidad through the Caribbean as far as the French dependencies of Martinique and Guadeloupe, but there is also the possibility of the gas reaching Miami.

To take gas to Miami via Puerto Rico would significantly complicate the project and increase costs, but it would also provide an enormous potential market for the Caribbean island's natural gas. Trevor Boopsingh, whose Trinidadian company, Ken S. Jay, is conducting the feasibility study on behalf of the Caribbean governments, said gas could start flowing through the regional pipeline as early as 2006 if the smaller project is pursued and all goes well. But it would take a significantly longer time for a larger project to come to fruition.

He said, "It is still (in the) early stages but we know that the smaller project could cost in the vicinity of $500 million to $750 million and take between 3 and 4 years from decision to implementation."

The smaller project would see the construction of a 20-in. pipeline extending up the Caribbean island chain to Martinique and Guadeloupe. It would supply all the islands, including Barbados, with spurs to Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts-Nevis, and Dominica.

Most of the gas is expected to be used by the islands' power companies, with total demand estimated at 150-200 MMcfd. The demand is expected to grow with the development of the islands' manufacturing sector and increased use of electricity due to tourism development and population growth.

Caribbean islands demand
A study done by consultant Guillermo Torres for the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), "Incorporating Natural Gas into the Energy Matrix of the Caribbean," forecast that Barbados's need for gas would increase to 21.89 MMcfd by 2015 from 12.19 MMcfd in 2004. Guyana would require about 8.2 MMcfd to 2009, rising to 12.09 MMcfd thereafter.

The power plants' switch to natural gas should significantly reduce electricity costs in the islands and lead to environmental benefits as they move away from diesel-powered generators, the study noted.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning told the Caricom meeting that his proposal is an attempt to assist his country's less-fortunate neighbors. He said, "These arrangements hold out a promise of a reduction of 30% in energy costs, including electricity, and would guarantee these countries price stability and predictability over the medium to long term."

However, because of the small size of the islands and their minor projected demand volumes, it is crucial that Martinique and Guadeloupe agree to purchase the gas.

Boopsingh said, "The two French-speaking islands hold sway to the project, since close to 70% of the gas would be sold to them. As a result, discussions have already begun with the French power company (Electricitéde France) with a view to having it switch to natural gas."

CNG alternative
Manning noted that if the smaller project is pursued, it would be necessary for the larger Caricom countries to be supplied by alternative arrangements.
He said, "New technology in compressed natural gas suggests Jamaica, Haiti, and Guyana can be supplied by this mechanism. Belize would be supplied through an appropriate arrangement with Mexico, while a proposal is still being developed to supply the Bahamas."

Officials from National Gas Co. of Trinidad & Tobago Ltd. say CNG is the way to go for the larger islands.

NGC's manager of strategic planning. Gregory McGuire, said CNG could be competitive where LNG would not feasible nor a pipeline economic.

Manning told the Caricom heads of government, " The proposal can be facilitated if each country that proposes to utilize the pipeline retains a participating interest in its ownership."

NGC's role
NGC has been given a mandate to drive the project forward, and its chairman, Keith Awong, said he is confident the project would "fly" and even held out hope that the larger pipeline taking gas to the US could be built.
He said, "We know there is a major trench just off Puerto Rico and the technical challenges that poses, but with the new technology that is available and which is likely to become available over the next 2-3 years, (the pipeline could be built)."

However, Awong said both projects faced major challenges besides the technical ones: "You would recognize that there are significant geopolitical issues, jurisdictional issues, and these kinds of things. The question of a submarine pipeline also brings with it questions of security of supply. Is one pipeline going to be satisfactory for the users? Are they going to be satisfied with utilizing gas on the basis of a single pipeline? I think it is early in the game to decide which project we would pursue."

He said there are also legal issues to be dealt with, because many of the Caricom countries would have to pass legislation to facilitate the pipeline. Awong told OGJ, "You have to understand that in some of these countries they do not even have legislation on pipelines and other issues that may relate to the energy sector. This may take even longer than it would take to implement the project."

EOG supplier
EOG Resources Inc., Houston, is expected to supply the gas for the pipeline and has taken a lead role in the project.

Its managing director in Trinidad, Lyndell Looger, said the rationale is simply to sell as much gas as possible: "EOG's business plan is pretty simple. Our goal is to go look for gas, find gas, and sell gas. Liquids are nice, crude oil is nice, but in the end our business in not ammonia, it is not pipelines, but (these are) the sort of business lines we are willing to get into and try to master to sell our gas."

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