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Offer MHTL workers jobs at new gas plant

Trinidad Express / Proman, the owner of Methanol Holdings Trinidad Limited (MHTL), which is shutting down plants and putting at least 100 workers on the breadline, is also the owner another company, DeNovo Energy Limited which will be sourcing natural gas offshore and building a processing plant right next door to the MHTL plants. MHTL is blaming the ongoing gas shortage for the shutdown. According to Environmental Management Authority (EMA) documents released February 16, DeNovo, a member of the Switzerland-based Proman Group, is seeking permission to build a facility at Point Lisas on the same street as MHTL. The public has up to March 24 to send comments to the EMA. MHTL shut down two plants and had the plant operator, Industrial Plant Services Limited (IPSL), another company in which Proman is the majority shareholder, advise Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, by letter dated March 1, that it will be sending home 100 workers effective April 21. That number will increase to at least 130 if more plants close. MHTL chief executive officer Dennis Patrick turned down an interview request, saying: “Please be advised that we are involved in confidential contractual discussions with the NGC (National Gas Company) and therefore would offer no comments at this time.” DeNovo CEO Monty Pemberton also declined comment, as did IPSL corporate services manager Collis Williams. Chief labour relations officer of the Steel Workers Union of T&T Timothy Bailey said: “They should analyse the skill sets of the workers that they are going to retrench, see what skill sets will be applicable to the construction of the new gas plant, and maybe the operation of the plant in the future, and they should, even though legally they are not required to do it, consider utilising these workers instead of allowing them to be placed in the position of being unemployed at this time.” Humane thing to do “We know the challenges that the country is facing right now and if there is room for absorption under one of their (Proman’s) companies in the group to do something similar to what the workers were doing, but maybe in a different field, they should. That’s the humane thing to do. I think any employer would have an appreciation of the dedication that a worker may give, and if they are no longer in a position where they could employ the worker, under the circumstances that they had been employed previously, and there is another avenue where they could absorb them they should consider that,” Bailey added. DeNovo bought its 80 per cent stake in offshore Blocks 1a and 1b in the Gulf of Paria from Centrica for US$23 million in April 2016 and, subject to environmental clearance, will build a facility that can handle 90 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (mmscfd) for local utilisation. This is about the same amount of gas by which supply to methanol manufacturers (not just MHTL) fell in 2016 versus 2015, according to Energy Ministry data. In 2016, natural gas utilisation for methanol manufacture fell to 456 mmscfd from 539 mmscfd in 2015, according to the Energy Ministry’s consolidated bulletins. Finance Minister Colm Imbert, in his September 30, 2016 budget speech, announced that DeNovo “is expected to come on stream in 2018”. Asked for comment, Natasa Valentic, a Switzerland-based spokesperson for Proman, said in a March 7 e-mail: “We have no further comment at this time.” She was asked if the company was permanently letting go 100 workers amid a temporary situation (mothballing) that could be reversed as early as 2018 when DeNovo comes on stream. NGC getting short supply from Shell Proman is not the only company with both upstream and downstream operations in T&T. Royal Dutch Shell, the country’s second largest natural gas extractor, is majority-owner of Point Fortin-based Atlantic, the world’s sixth largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter. According to Opposition Senator Wade Mark, in Parliament on March 7, Shell is short-supplying the National Gas Company of T&T on its contractual obligation to supply the NGC with 220 mmscfd from its upstream operations. Instead it is only supplying 140 mmscfd, a number Imbert confirmed the same day. Mark said Shell is diverting the gas so it can feed Atlantic trains. While responding to a question from Mark, in the Senate, Imbert also confirmed that Shell’s supply of natural gas to the NGC is only 22.5 per cent of its total output. Rowley: It’s the Opposition’s fault Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, responding to a question in Parliament the day before, March 6, said: “The reason (for the job losses at IPSL/MHTL/Proman) is a shortage of gas, and may I remind you, Madam Speaker, that while there was a shortage of gas to keep the plants in Point Lisas going, the government of the day, which is now in the Opposition, was telling the country that there was no shortage of gas, and that it was only a maintenance issue, and as soon as the maintenance was over, we’ll get back to normal. We, and I myself, on many occasions, pointed out to this country that that was not true, that there was a shortage of gas and there was a threat to the Point Lisas plants.” Rowley also acknowledged that while hopes were pinned on the BP-operated Juniper gas field, scheduled to come on stream by the third quarter of this year, the 590 mmscfd from that field may not be enough to reverse the gas production decline. Instead it will merely bring the country back to where it was, given the deteriorating reserve replacement ratio. In simple language, this means gas reserves are being used up faster than new gas is being found and produced. On a February 23 conference call, Repsol CEO Josu Jon Imaz confirmed this in response to a question. Repsol is a 30 per cent partner in bpTT, the London-based BP Group plc’s local unit. The Repsol CEO said: “BP, as operator, and we, as partner, we are investing in the Juniper project. That is going to be a project that is going to allow us to maintain the former production we had before in Trinidad.”

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