Submitted by Andrew Nehaul
Carlisle Bay and Bimshire.
These are the names of the two offshore blocks obtained by BHP Petroleum for oil exploration. These blocks are located between 40 km to 140 km Southeast of Barbados collectively encompass an area of 5,000 km2 in area and sitting in water depths ranging from 1,200 meters to 2,000 meters.
These depths are deep but with today’s technology, not impossible for the extraction of oil and gas. With the recent finds off Guyana, a greater possibility exists for Barbados to soon become a member of this exclusive club.
There is no guarantee that oil will be found during BHP’s exploration but if it is, now is the best time to prepare for that possibility. If their work bears fruit, there will be an influx of other players rushing to our shores and so the Government must be knowledgeable and well prepared to negotiate with all interested parties.
Before we all jump up and down in glee and hope that Barbadians will all now be rich, increased revenue for the treasury does not mean gas at 5 cents a litre and money for all. On the contrary, any funds received should be spent wisely. Preferably on improving the islands infrastructure, health and welfare along with the creation of a wealth fund for future generations.
So, if oil is in our future, what happens next?
1) We need to be ready to create a Barbados Oil Ministry with qualified lawyers, engineers, visionaries and consultants who could advise the current and future methods of negotiating any and all gas and petroleum contracts. We must learn from what happened in Angola.
2) Investment possibilities for local Barbadians. 40 km offshore will mean from helicopter services to boats taking food and supplies on a 24 hour basis, to increased private air traffic at the airport, increased cargo handling at the port along with more tugs and pilots etc Let us not also forget that institutions like the Barbados Community College may need to be expanded as they will need to provide technical training in industrial welding both above ground as well as undersea, commercial electricians, and pipe fitting.
3) The creation of a wealth fund staffed with the best investment bankers with specific safe (conservative) long term investment strategies.
4) The creation of a new port on the east of the island to exclusively service the oil and gas industry. This should include a state of the art centre for an expanded coast guard and a new quick response long range marine fire fighting service.
5) Improvements to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to include a helicopter pad for emergencies and an expanded surgical section to include but not limited to a specialized burn unit.
6) The training of Barbadians in the oil industry from non skilled workers to providing scholarships for persons interested in the oil and gas industry.
Careers in Oil and Gas There are countless jobs within the industry, each of them requiring different levels of skill and education. The most advanced jobs require degrees while the entry- and mid-level jobs require more basic training and education. Today there are over 1.700 Guyanese citizens working in their oil industry and we can expect that 20 – 30% of the working population in Barbados will find jobs in this industry when production commences.
The Government would be wise to have an exploratory committee formed and ready. To many the above scenario may sound like a dream but I can assure you that when the first discovery is announced by BHP or others, it will be one day too late to start planning.