Oil exploration is an exceedingly fickle and risky, and not to mention expensive, business - especially offshore.
Take the case of Jamaica's neighbour, Cuba, whose socialist economy, exacerbated by America's trade embargo, is in crisis. Cuba produces approximately 50,000 barrels of oil per day from onshore wells. This is about a third of its consumption. A big oil find would not only shore up the Cuban economy but likely change its political dynamics with the United States.
Cuba believes it has big oil on its side of the Gulf of Mexico - about 20 billion barrels worth. If it materialises, this would put Cuba in the midrange of Latin American oil producers.
But in July, a consortium of the Malaysian oil company Petronas and Russia's Gazprom announced that its exploratory offshore well in the Cuban Gulf showed signs of oil, but not in commercial quantities.
Earlier in the year, Spain's Respol, too, came up dry. So, having spent a nearly a dozen years and more than US$100 million, and having sunken three offshore wells - the first of which had non-commercial showings - Respol appears ready to move on.
Another company is readying to sink an exploratory well in Cuban waters, but as yet, Cuba is not enjoying the luck of the Irish.
And that reminds of the turn in the fortunes of Ireland, which in recent years has had the spotlight for the collapse of the Celtic economic tiger and its morphing to the ranks of Europe's PIIGS.
Earlier this year, an Irish company, Providence Resources Plc, announced it had discovered oil in - even if small - commercial quantities. This month Providence quadrupled the volume of its find to up to 1.6 billion barrels.
This brings us to developments in Kingston, where the Petroleum Corporation announced that it has revoked the exploration licence in five blocks of Jamaica's south coast held by Rainville Energy Corporation, a Canadian outfit. That licence was acquired in 2005, and Rainville, a subsidiary of Sagres Energy, should have started drilling by April. It has not been able to raise the money to do so, or to fulfil other financial obligations.
This is not particularly unusual in this sometimes wild and speculative business. But the Rainville exploration raises a number of issues which the energy minister must take heed and address.
OIL STILL RULES
The first is what Rainville's failure say about Jamaica's place in an energy kingdom in which oil still rules. There are bound to be questions of what investors have read in the geological and seismic surveys on which Jamaica has based its estimation of potential oil reserves in its seas that is 50 per cent higher than Cuba's projection.
For Rainville is not the only company that is on watch. Finder Exploration of Australia, according to the energy minister, Mr Phillip Paulwell, could face the same fate if it does not act.
Mr Paulwell did not mention Finder, but in 2007, when he was previously the minister, a Hong Kong-based outfit named Proteam was announced to have been granted five offshore blocks. What is its status?
Nor do we know of the outcome of bids, if there were any, from the March 2010 auction in London.
Further, Mr Paulwell must watch the narrative of oil exploration. He needs to be realistic and measured. Good geological shows do not necessarily translate to flowing wells.
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