Sunday, October 17, 2004

LA BREA, Trinidad (AP) — A stone’s throw from the spot where British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh happened upon a vast lake of tar in 1595, workers are building the first offshore natural-gas drilling platform designed and constructed in a Caribbean country.

Raleigh used the tar to cork the leaks in his ships; the nation of Trinidad and Tobago is using the liquid natural gas to fuel an economic boom.

The drilling platform being built for BP Trinidad and Tobago LLC (BPTT) — the Trinidad branch of London-based BP Amoco PLC — is scheduled to be completed in March and be fully operational in January 2006, officials say.

Several other platforms already are extracting natural gas off the coast of the former British colony, but the one under construction in the southern town of La Brea is the first to be built in the country instead of along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

When the 900-ton, four-level platform is complete, it will be lifted with cranes and installed 30 miles off Trinidad’s southeastern coast.

The platform will extract some crude oil, but its main purpose is to extract natural gas for plants operated by Atlantic LNG in the southern town of Point Fortin, about 45 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain.

In recent years, Trinidad and Tobago has become the leading supplier of liquid natural gas to the United States, supplying 75 percent of imports last year. Liquid natural gas was only 3 percent of the total natural gas used in the United States in 2003, but that share is expected to grow to 15 percent by 2025.

Trinidad and Tobago, which has proven natural-gas reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet, reported economic growth of 12.8 percent in the fiscal year ending this month — much of it because of liquid natural gas.

The nation of 1.3 million people relies on oil and gas for more than 25 percent of its gross domestic product.

Officials say about 120 people are employed in the latest project, working in a yard where the hulking metal platform lies on its side, more than half finished.

The Cannonball Platform — named after a local tree that bears balls of multicolored flowers — is projected to extract and process 700 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Production could contribute an estimated $300 million in tax revenues per year, said Robert Riley, president of BPTT.

“Cannonball is not just about building a platform, it’s about giving this country the potential to provide the world with goods and first-class services,” Mr. Riley said during a recent tour of the construction site.

The platform is being built by Trinidad Offshore Fabricators Ltd., a joint venture between the local company Weldfab Ltd. and Chet Morrison. Mr. Riley, who is from Trinidad, said the cost of construction and related projects is $139 million — $10 million more than it would have cost to build in the United States.

The company hoped to gradually become more efficient with such projects, he said.

Trinidad and Tobago’s location just off South America makes it an ideal location to build platforms for Venezuela and West Africa, said Jeffrey Lee, vice president of international operations for Chet Morrison Contractors Inc. of Houma, La.

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