The new Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, Nicole Olivierre, has a lengthy “to do” list on her plate, bequeathed by her predecessor, Kevin Ramnarine, energy analysts point out.

Foremost among these concerns is arresting the decline of crude oil production, which could collapse to frightening levels, according to petroleum consultant Wilson Lalla, a former senior executive of state company Petrotrin. (See separate story in this issue.)

According to Ministry of Energy figures up to July, crude oil output was averaging a mere 67,191 b/d. The liquids average as a whole was 80,997 b/d, but that was entirely due to the condensate that falls out of the natural gas stream.

Analysts point out that while all the focus by commentators has been on crude oil pricing, a more important factor is crude oil production since, if output is rising, it compensates for fluctuations in the price of that oil.

The former minister vowed to fix this problem when he came into office in 2011, but that goal comprehensively eluded him.

Whether his successor can pull off the trick remains to be seen, but it will require stepped-up activity by companies operating onshore in existing blocks and success with the exploration programme in the three new land blocks — Ortoire (Touchstone Exploration), Rio Claro (Lease Operators Ltd) and St. Mary's (Range Resources) — offered by Ramnarine a year and a half before he resigned his position.

But while Olivierre is awaiting developments on the exploration and development drilling front, analysts say the minister should also make every effort to encourage retrieval of crude that is regarded as “stranded” because companies are not making a substantial effort to retrieve it.

Most EnergyNow readers will know by now that this refers to the billions of barrels of oil said to remain in existing reservoirs in south Trinidad which have ceased producing under natural pressure, or the billions of barrels of heavy oil, very little of which has been lifted at all.

Both oil types require “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) techniques to get them moving, but these processes can be expensive, which is why companies including Petrotrin have been in no hurry to devote resources to reaching such unrecovered oil.

The favoured EOR method is CO2 injection — favoured by leading geologist Dr. Krishna Persad, that is — but Ramnarine did cotton on to this and gave it his backing.

The new minister will have to decide whether she is going to put the same amount of time and enthusiasm into this as Mr. Ramnarine did, because if she does so, she will have to throw her weight behind the building of a pipeline from Point Lisas to take the CO2 down to the oilfields of the southern basin, where the stranded oil and heavy oil are trapped.

Ramnarine had described these two areas of crude oil activity as part of his “new energy economy,” the third pillar of which was success in deepwater exploration. Minister Olivierre may well be persuaded to likewise view this in a similar manner, or she may wish to direct her efforts elsewhere.

Energy analysts insist that there is no shortage of other matters awaiting her attention, and they point to:

  • Development drilling (some might call it exploratory drilling) into deeper horizons both on land and offshore. Many observers believe that such drilling, for which fiscal incentives exist, could be yet another “new frontier” for oil discovery (along with the deep water), but very little of it has taken place previously, again because of cost.

  • The commercialisation of small gas pools, which companies now find too expensive to exploit (or at least too expensive at current rates of return). This is the one area so far for which no tax breaks exist, and the minister may want to re-examine that situation.

  • Small oil pool commercialisation does attract fiscal breaks, but how much of that activity is actually taking place?

The minister may well want to find out.