Energy Conference confirms Guyana swimming in oceans of black gold!

ATTENDING Guyana’s 2023 International Energy Conference and Expo is quite an experience for Caribbean journalists from a region where Trinidad & Tobago was, for over five decades, the only major global exporter of oil & gas in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) before the “black gold” was discovered in Guyana’s deep blue waters a decade-or-so ago.

The second annual conference of its kind, this year, attracted over 800 delegates among over 1,200 guests at the conference’s opening on Tuesday – Valentine’s Day on the social calendar—and Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley cut the ribbon to get the ball rolling under the theme: “Harnessing Energy for Development.”

This year’s conference was more Caribbean-oriented than the previous two, with opening statements by President, Dr. Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana; St. Vincent & The Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves; Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, Dr. Rowley and ex-Colombian President, Ivan Duque.

Later, representatives of ExxonMobil and Hess Corporation— two of the three major investing O&G companies in the biggest offshore Stabroek Block (6.6 million acres or 26,800 square kilometers large) — provided an update on their plans to produce up to 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in four years, plus more welcome news for those who truly believe that Guyana is already a big world player on the global energy platform – and with much, much more to come.

ExxonMobil pledged to ramp-up production from its current 380,000 bpd to 400,000 bpd and said it’s “on track” to reach the million-bpd target by the end of 2027; Hess CEO, John Hess, said Guyana has a unique opportunity to become a role model for oil-producing and developing countries worldwide, as nations forge ahead with various energy transition and development issues.

One troublesome issue he identified was the International Energy Agency (IEA) regarded as “the dual challenge” of a “structural and energy supply deficit,” as the world “requires approximately 20 per cent more energy by 2050, while also aspiring to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hess explained further that “over the next ten years, the world will have to spend US$500 billion each year to ensure global O&G efforts intensify to meet demand,” adding: “For the last five years, only between US$300 million and US$400 million was spent,” way short of what’s needed.

But it was the regional content of speeches that most impressed Caribbean journalists, especially the positions taken by Presidents Ali and Santokhi and Prime Ministers Gonsalves and Rowley.

Between them, the four CARICOM leaders— led by PM Rowley and President Santokhi and supported by PM Gonsalves, President Ali and Vice President Jagdeo— painted a future Guyana national landscape of wide and full cooperation between oil and gas and other energy producers, that could see a new global energy coalition in which Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname’s natural gas meet the region’s electricity needs for the next 100 years.

Presentations on day one also allowed Guyana’s leadership and top national energy officials to clarify issues they felt were either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented by political and press critics at home, including: Why the government “has no choice” but to “keep a lopsided PSA” (Production Sharing Agreement) signed with ExxonMobil by the previous APNU+AFC coalition, which it now criticizes in opposition; why Guyana’s green credentials will not be dulled by offshore drilling and extraction; why indigenous communities were being directly paid their share of a US$750 million carbon sales agreement with Hess; why a gas-to-energy project currently underway is important to reduce citizens’ electricity bills, and why the government felt the local agents for Transparency International (TIGI) “lack credibility” as their annual reports reflected what Jagdeo called “selective transparency,” according to which party was in office.

As is always the case in politically-divided Caribbean societies, press coverage in some cases looked or sounded like the critics and some sections of the local press were singing from the same hymn sheet.

Two of the four daily newspapers concentrated on stories government supporters would find negative, one with no front page news on the first day and the other with a front page story highlighting three protesters with placards demanding “50 per cent royalty” as “our fair share” with “no Exxon robbery!”– and both highlighting a statement from the Guyana Press Association (GPA) accusing conference organisers of an “attempt” to “restrict” the local media from “free access” to “delegates coming from free, open and democratic societies…”.

One also carried a whole-page “BLUNT” (but unattributed) advertisement accusing the Guyana government of being in bed with Exxon to ensure the PSA is not renegotiated – and claiming President Ali “has abandoned Guyanese who trusted him…”

The other two dailies highlighted what they considered good news from day one: The conference being a showcase for investment opportunities across all sectors; Guyana being touted a Caribbean model for state energy security; how the Natural Gas-to-Energy project “will power economic growth”; Brazil and Suriname being interested in cross-border energy cooperation with Guyana (including using hydro power for electricity); Brazil, India, Kuwait and Qatar showing interest in bidding for the 14 new Guyana oil blocks up for sale; and the ex-Colombia President saying economic and energy transitions will make Guyana a leading Caribbean nation.

Day one of the international energy conference was derided by a perpetual Doubting Thomas in one column in one newspaper as a “Pappy Show,” while the day turned out to be more than expected by those who believe the facts and figures that back the oil companies’ and government’s assurances that Guyana’s oceans of black gold will truly make CARICOM’s largest nation the Oil Dorado, which can be a good example to the rest of the world on how new energy can energise and enrichen a country and its people for near eternity, if done well-enough as being undertaken by Guyana today.

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