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Trinidad Seeking to Find New Oil Markets in China

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Fearing that the U.S. will, in the short- to medium-term, require reduced amounts of natural gas from Trinidad for its Eastern Seaboard states, the oil- and gas-rich southern Caribbean island of Trinidad is beginning to switch its focus to mainland China as it searches for new markets for its booming gas sector.

The U.S. is beginning to step up production of both oil and gas thanks to the relatively new hydraulic fracturing technology that now allows the industry to unlock behemoth amounts of supplies from underground sources that were previously unreachable through old-style drilling techniques.

In the past week, both U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping were in the twin-island Caribbean republic with Tobago for talks with regional leaders, but while Biden’s visit attracted the usual heavy domestic and international press, authorities in Trinidad made it plain that there was more value in the visit of the Chinese than the Americans.

Both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said that the island’s cabinet had wasted little time in noting the rapid pace at which the U.S. oil and gas sector has been taking off in recent years, and industry talk suggests that the U.S. will be self-sufficient as early as 2020.

The result is that planners and experts are already seeing reduced demand for natural gas supplies from Trinidad to the U.S. in the near future and the need to open new markets. Critics say that this is the reason why the visit of the Chinese was more significant to both Trinidad and the regional trade bloc, as the Chinese offered less than a dozen bloc members nearly $3 billion in concessions and promised even more. Trinidad annually supplies as much as 60 percent of the gas needs of U.S. Eastern Seaboard states.

Specifically for Trinidad, the two cabinet members say that the Chinese market is paying “three times more” for natural gas than the Americans and can lap up all the supplies they can get in the medium- to long-term, unlike the Americans, who are heading for self-sufficiency despite widespread concern over fracking posing potentially serious danger to the water table and the environment in general.

“My government is actively seeking to penetrate new markets regionally and internationally. We see China as a key business partner and a potential new market for our energy products. Alternative and renewable energy research and development is also high on our developmental agenda, and we welcome the involvement of the Chinese in this area,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Ramnarine, on the other hand, announced that four shipments of liquefied natural gas had already been supplied to the Chinese, and “we expect this will increase.” Any expansion of the nearby Panama Canal will also help boost exports to China, he said. “The industry in Trindiad and Tobago has to evolve and stay competitive. We’ve drafted a national energy policy that is now being fine-tuned before being taken to cabinet,” he said.

The Chinese brought 280 persons to Trinidad and has extensive investments on the island.

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