EDITORIAL: It’s time to reveal natural gas state
During the Christmas holidays when a number of restaurant operators on the West Coast complained about being severely hampered by either a shortage or absence of natural gas, we empathised with the operators, but suggested they give the National Petroleum Corporation (NPC) the benefit of the doubt because of its many years of top-quality service.
Our position was that the corporation must have been caught unawares with some technical problem, and when the institution itself announced that experts from Trinidad had been rushed to Barbados to help them diagnose and fix the problem, we saw that as confirmation.
It was therefore quite disappointing to hear Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Senator Darcy Boyce, who has responsibility for energy matters, reveal that Government was having discussions with entities for natural gas shipments to augment the local supply.
He suggested that once this shipment arrived, the shortage would be over. Unless we misheard or misunderstood the senator, we can draw no other conclusion than that the Barbadian public was not told the full story back in December. Clearly it could not have been a leak since sane people would not be buying gas to pump into a leaking distribution system.
The alternative would be an even worse indictment on the corporation responsible for the delivery of natural gas in Barbados – that they did not know they were running out of gas.
Either way we have a problem, and perhaps we should have read between the lines when the NPC complained back then that some customers were using too much gas. After all, it is not normal for a profit-seeking corporation to complain that its customers are using too much of its product, forcing it to make too much money.
But perhaps we are placing too much fault at the feet of the NPC, which is really only responsible for the national distribution network. The NPC does not drill oil wells; that’s the responsibility of the Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) and it has been many years since that state agency has had a half-decent drilling programme.
If you don’t maintain a vibrant drilling programme, you can’t build a sustainable natural gas network and it is quite clear that’s the point we have reached. Otherwise we would not be engaged in emergency negotiations for supplies to supplement what we have.
Perhaps the time has come for the officials at BNOC to speak, rather than their counterparts at the NPC. They need to explain the state of the gas-producing wells and the documented accessible reserves that are immediately available to them. BNOC needs to say whether wells they drilled years ago and capped at places such as Fisherpond in St Thomas and Turners Hall in St Andrew are exploitable.
The thousands of domestic and commercial natural gas customers need to know how close the local supply is to depletion and how soon BNOC will return to a vibrant exploration programme.
If it is that they are looking to the often-promised offshore drilling programme as a saviour, then they should say so. The point is that it is time for a full disclosure of the state of our natural gas reserves and supply system.