Editorial

Keeping our fingers crossed for an oil find

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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Over the next 12 to 18 months Jamaicans will be keeping their fingers crossed that the country's first-ever oil and gas exploration 3-D seismic survey, just ended, will confirm indications of commercial quantities of the commodity on our south coast.

Conclusion of the 45-day survey by Tullow Oil on May 8 comes 63 years after Jamaica officially started the search for oil off the coast of Negril. Fortunately, the 3-D survey can draw from the previous 2-D surveys.

The more optimistic among us believe that if oil and gas are found, leading to self-sufficiency, they would represent a game-changer for the Jamaican economy, given their critical importance to the energy sector on which we spend US$1 billion a year.

The survey was part of a production-sharing agreement between the State-run Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) and Tullow Oil. Its findings will determine if Tullow elects to drill an exploratory well in the future, according to the PCJ.

Officials involved with the study have been at pains to urge caution, stressing that, while hopes were high, it was way too soon to conclude that oil and gas would be found in commercial quantities.

Over last weekend, PCJ gave some cause for optimism in a press statement in which it said: “Tullow's decision to do the 3-D seismic survey shows that the data indicators are pointing in the right direction and we hope that the results of the post-survey data analysis will prompt them to move forward to the next phase.”

The cautious optimism of some is shared by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding who, while acknowledging that it is too early to start popping Champagne bottles, advised that the country should begin preparatory arrangements to deal with the inevitable challenges of finding oil.

“One cannot help being more hopeful, even if not yet excited, about our quest to find oil and gas in Jamaica based on recent developments. The search, which started way back in 1955 off the coast of Negril, has continued sporadically and we have had our fair share of hopes raised and hopes dashed,” he wrote in a recent Jamaica Observer column.

“What is different this time is the finding, with the assistance of our local fishermen, of a live oil seep last year and the recent decision by Tullow Oil Plc, in partnership with United Oil & Gas — both British companies — to conduct 3-D seismic surveys and analysis in the Walton Bank area of our south coast,” he said.

Coincidental with these developments is the reported discovery of onshore oil traces in Trelawny, he noted, adding: “Our hopes could well be dashed again, but the prospects seem to be moving from possible to probable.”

His optimism was also based on the availability of improved technology for the search, as well as the fact that Tullow Oil has had an impressive record of discoveries in the drillings it has undertaken, after careful evaluation, particularly in Africa.

We agree with Mr Golding that it is wise not to count our chickens before they are hatched, but it is “even wiser to start thinking about what we would do with the chickens if they do hatch”.

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