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Editorial | CMI’s role in Guyana’s fledgling oil industry

Published:Wednesday | September 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Discussion in Jamaica, so far, about the big oil find in Guyana has been on how, if managed properly, it could transform that country's economy. It is perhaps for fear of seeming indelicate that no one has as yet focused on the opportunities for Jamaica.

This newspaper, however, believes it is neither crass nor vulgar to begin this kind of prospecting, especially within the framework of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which both countries are members and of Jamaica providing Guyana with needed services at competitive prices. Training is an immediate and obvious area where we believe this is possible.

A fortnight ago, ExxonMobil disclosed that the discovery at its Liza-2 field, off the Guyanese coast, would yield up to 1.4 billion barrels of oil, or twice as much as previous estimates. Indeed, the global oil industry has welcomed the find as "world-class". That, however, is not the end of it. ExxonMobil has more than eight million acres of seabed open to exploration. Other companies, buoyed by the Liza-2 find, are ramping up their offshore and onshore activities.

In the event, Guyana, over the next decade or so - the time it will likely take to begin serious extraction of crude - will have to develop an oil industry from scratch. But it is handicapped, as the country's natural resources minister, Raphael Trotman, pointed out in an interview this past June, by a shortage of skills. This limits what demands Guyana can make on foreign oil companies for the employment of domestic talent.

"Right now, having local content legislation is a bit iffy because there is no industry, and we need foreign expertise to support the oil and gas industry in Guyana," Mr Trotman explained. "You cannot make demands for welders or divers because there are none. I can have legislation that says that a certain percentage of all welders need to be Guyanese, but if there is a deficiency there, it makes little sense."

So, the minister expects that it will be up to five years before such legislation can be in place. Much, though, will depend on Guyana's capacity to develop the requisite skills, some of which it expects to happen domestically, but for which it is also looking to the engineering school at the University of the West Indies at St Augustine, Trinidad.

 

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It is probably not surprising that he didn't mention Jamaica and/or the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI), which is working towards being formally upgraded to a university. Not only is the engineering school at St Augustine of long standing, Trinidad and Tobago is next-door to Guyana and has a mature oil and gas industry. Trinidadians would seem natural recruits, at the technical and engineering level, to help kick-start Guyana's oil industry.

But the CMI is more than three and a half decades old. It has a strong record of training seafarers as well as work-ready maritime and other engineers. These are some of the skills that will be required for people working on offshore and onshore oil rigs and related facilities. Some CMI graduates will be in demand in Guyana.

At the same time, given CARICOM's single market and the Community's functional cooperation arrangements, it would make sense for the CMI to offer its services in training Guyanese and to even tailor some of its courses to the requirements of this sector.