If more acreage is not given out to the “independent” oil operators in Trinidad and Tobago (the small to medium-sized private companies active mainly onshore), then the trajectory of the country’s crude oil production will continue to trend downward, with eventual disastrous consequences.

Who says so? None other than a former senior Petrotrin executive, petroleum geologist Wilson Lalla, who now runs his own consultancy, Trinidad Geoscience Consulting Ltd.

He sees ample evidence of production decline and points to figures which clearly illustrate his point.

The country’s peak oil production occurred in 1978, reaching 229,527 b/d on average, following the discovery of the east coast offshore Teak, Samaan and Poui oil fields by what was then Amoco Trinidad Oil Co.

But it has been all downhill since then, with production falling to 176,052 b/d on average in 1985, to around 100,000 b/d in 2000 and 66,784 b/d in 2014.

There has been a slight increase so far in 2015, with output averaging 67,191 b/d up to July, but that brings little comfort to Mr. Lalla, who firmly believes that by 2020, “We will be producing something like just over 40,000 barrels per day and, by 2030, 20,000 barrels per day. This has serious implications for the country.”

Indeed it does, but Lalla’s prognosis does not take certain factors into account, namely success in the three exploration blocks on land awarded in 2014 – Ortoire (Touchstone Exploration), Rio Claro (Lease Operators Ltd.) and St. Mary’s (Range Resources).

Together, these blocks represent 63,715 hectares of exploration acreage in the “prospective southern basin,” as described by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries. (The Ministry’s name has reverted to what it was in previous People’s National Movement (PNM) administration.)

The Ministry has been reluctant to suggest the precise resource prospectivity of the three blocks, but the extensive exploratory commitment involved could well lead to the discovery of hydrocarbons, if they exist in the locations where the companies choose to drill.

The bleak scenario suggested by Lalla could also be averted by more drilling by the independents in their existing blocks. The lease operators (LOs), who deal with wells leased to them by state company Petrotrin, have been doing a very commendable job, with crude output averaging 6,086 b/d up to July.

Lalla throws his own support behind the independents, insisting that the state company, which controls all the acreage in nearshore Trinmar and the overwhelming majority on land, hand over much more acreage to the small and medium-sized private operators.

Even with what the LOs, the farmout operators (FOs) and the incremental production service contractors (IPSCs) now have, a greater effort should be put into development and exploratory drilling, he insists.

But this must be done with the use of technology.

“The fields in which Petrotrin and the independents operate are all very mature,” the petroleum geologist points out. “Many of them are between 80-100 years old, with others being 50-60 years old and the rest about 40 years old.”

“The traditional producing areas are so mature and have produced for so long and so many wells have been drilled that you are unlikely to find big oilfields.”

But no matter. Even a 5- to 35-million-barrel discovery could boost current oil output, but it requires the application of technology.

Mature basins in other countries have had a revival thanks to 3-D seismic, which Petrotrin shot in 2012 along with horizontal and multilateral drilling.

“Petrotrin should sell part of the 3-D results to the independents that relate to the areas where they operate, and horizontal drilling should be undertaken as a matter of routine, not on an ad-hoc basis.”