PM: NGC, Shell actively working on Dragon gas field

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. – File photo by Roger Jacob

THE Prime Minister says the necessary work to access natural gas from Venezuela’s Dragon gas field is being actively pursued at this time.

He made this statement in the House of Representatives on April 19, in response to a question from Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee.

Dr Rowley said this Government received a 30-year exploration and production licence from the Venezuelan government on December 21, 2023 for the Dragon gas field, and the work to develop the field is continuing.

“The National Gas Company (NGC) and Shell have been looking at the elements necessary to get the project done.”

Rowley told MPs the gestation periods for projects of this period are lengthy and involve different components.

These include getting vessels to survey the reserves in the Dragon field and doing the designs for any pipeline infrastructure needed to extrace the natural gas that is there.

Rowley said these were necessary precursors for the successful undertaking of the relevant physical activity to come.

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George told Lee a subsequent question about the licence awarded to Government for the Dragon field was inadmissible, given his original question, the answer Rowley gave to that question and the House’s standing orders.

On April 18, UNC activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj claimed a statement made on the same day by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which falls under the US Treasury, meant the Dragon deal was in jeopardy

In a statement, Balgobin-Maharaj said, “As was expected, the US is making good on their promise to not extend the life of OFAC General License 44 when it expires on April 18, 2024. As such, it was just announced by OFAC that all entities operating under General License 44 will be given until May 31, 2024, to wind down all oil and gas operations in Venezuela.”

But in a subsequent statement, the Energy Ministry said Balgobin-Maharaj’s assessment of the development was wrong.

“This amendment to the OFAC General Licence 44 does not affect the specific amended OFAC licence that was issued to the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on October 17, 2023, which authorised the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd (NGC), Shell PLC and their affiliates to conduct business with the Government of Venezuela and Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) with respect to the Dragon Gas Field in Venezuela.”

The ministry said, “The specific amended OFAC Licence issued to Trinidad and Tobago on October 17, 2023 is valid until October 31, 2025 and permits Shell, NGC and contractors to continue the works being undertaken to explore, produce and export natural gas from the Venezuelan Dragon Gas Field.”

TT and Venezuela signed the US$1 billion deal in August 2018. Those involved included energy giant Shell, Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and the NGC.

The Dragon deal will see TT developing the field, which it is estimated will produce approximately 150 million standard cubic feet of gas a day. The gas will be imported through a billion-dollar pipeline to the Hibiscus platform off the northwest coast of TT. The platform is jointly owned by the Government, NGC and Shell.

The deal was left in limbo after the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2019.

On January 24, Rowley announced that the US had lifted the sanctions to allow TT to extract gas from Venezuela. This waiver came after almost four years of lobbying led by Rowley and supported by other Caricom leaders.

Rowley said the waiver came with stipulations, one being a two-year licence with an optimistic view of an extension and priority given to Caribbean countries, except Cuba.

In October, OFAC offered an extension of the licence to TT to access natural gas from the Dragon gas field and the ability to pay for that gas in different ways.

Young announced the extension of the licence to October 31, 2025 at a news conference on October 17.He said the extension also allows Government to pay for gas from the field in “fiat currency, as well as US dollars, as well as (Venezuelan bolivares), as well as via humanitarian measures.”