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T&T government, opposition row over Venezuela oil pact

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2013 | 12:00 AM

The Trinidad and Tobago government has denied allegations that Venezuela stands to benefit tremendously from an agreement signed last week regarding the Loran Manatee oilfield.

Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said statements by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and opposition legislator Colm Imbert on the issue could hurt diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"That reckless statement by the leader of the Opposition and Mr Imbert will impact on international relations between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela," he said.

Ramnarine said the agreement, which he signed with Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez on September 11 in Caracas, concerned the functional structure and governance of the unit operator for the Loran-Manatee unit area.

He said the agreement deals with the establishment of the unit operator that would comprise three bodies, namely, a directing committee made up of representatives of both governments and the four companies involved, an investment committee made up of the four companies involved, and an executing entity, to be chosen from among the four companies.

"The Venezuelans have held to a view that their gas, because there is gas that is their property and gas that is our property, should go to their pipeline via Venezuela," Ramnarine said.

"We have put out a view that our gas should come to Trinidad, and we have also put forward the view that some of their gas should come to Trinidad, given the fact that the field is closer to Trinidad's infrastructure. It makes economic sense. However, no agreement has been arrived at as to where the gas will go."

But Imbert, who had labelled the government's position on the agreement as being tantamount to "treason" during the ongoing budget debate in Parliament, told reporters that reputable international media companies, such as Reuters, were reporting that the agreement was in Venezuela's favour.

Overwhelming evidence

"If the minister is right and I am wrong, why have none of the international media houses reported in opposition to this that a pipeline will be built from the gas field to PETROTRIN (the state-owned company)," said Imbert.

"The international press and I say that a pipeline is going to be built to Venezuela. They say it's not so. I'm sorry, there's overwhelming evidence it is so," said Imbert, noting that a release from PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company, has indicated that the company would build the pipeline from the field to the Venezuelan coast.

Imbert said Trinidad has a problem as its gas supply is limited, so that new projects cannot get off the ground and this issue poses difficulty in attracting investors. He said the Loran Manatee field was supposed to be the catalyst to stimulating the sector.

Rowley told reporters that the government needs to "come clean" on the matter.

"If what has been published and what the government is not owning up to here is what we think it is, then this probably is worse than Section 34 (that was aimed at getting people charged with crimes for more than 10 years walk free) and all we want from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is the truth and to stop taking us for fools," he said.

But Ramnarine insists that the agreement is not in Venezuela's favour.

"I think that came out of a statement that Minister Ramirez made prior to my visit, and the Venezuelan and international media picked up on that ... but Minister Ramirez never said that our gas, Trinidad gas, will be going to Venezuela."