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(en) El Libertario, #31 - The Delta Platform: Sovereignty for sale? - Rafael Uzcátegui

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 16 Aug 2003 07:48:26 +0200 (CEST)


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Following the Natural Gas National Plan, PDVSA (the state-owned oil
company) and the Mining and Power Ministry anounced, during the last
quarter of 2002 the beginning of two projects: the Delta Platform and the
Mariscal Sucre. The government's attempts to diversify production seemed
to be well thought: "By 2007, Venezuela will be an exporter of Natural Gas",
claimed Alí Rodríguez (president of PDVSA) during the signing of the agreements
between the Mariscal Sucre Project and Mitsubishi International,
last December 1. But the early criticisms against the lack of
transparency of the contract with the multinational corporations,
have clouded the celebrations for the promised bonanza from gas profits.

The Platform
Development of the sea's natural gas reserves has stalled during
the last two decades. The Delta Platform is located in the Delta
Amacuro State, 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from the coast,
in waters bordering Trinidad & Tobago. It has an estimated area
of 27 thousand square kilometers (10 thousand sq/mi) and 55
thousand sq/km (21 thousand sq/mi) at the front face. It began its
exploration phase in early 2002 with an initial investment of 375
million dollars. Last August, during a visit from Alí Rodríguez
to Washington, the Platform's potential for natural gas production
was reassured. The total reserves in the area are estimated in 38
billion cubic feet worth of natural gas
which, as the president of PDVSA remarked, equals the projected
budget deficit
of the US by 2020.

After the initial exploration phase, the next logical step should be
the unification of the oilfields with Trinidad & Tobago, since they
are on the borderline waters. Then follows the preselection of the
participating companies and to grant the exploration and
exploitation licences. Finally, the exploitation and
commercialization phase -expected to be done by 2007- when it is
hoped to yield 1000 million cubic feet per day. The sheer amount
of the required investments at the Delta Platform prevents
national capital from participating directly. In August 2002,
President Chávez signed the Agreement for the development of
the Delta Platform with the multinational corporations British
Petroleum and British Gas Group (Great Britain), Norks Hydro
and Statoil (Norway), TotalFinaElf (France), El Paso,
Exxon-Mobil and Chevron Texaco (USA).

The Questions
The initial listing for the future partners showed 12 companies,
which was cut in half for no apparent reason. The exploration area
was substantially modified in a very short time, changing from
1400 to 6000 square kilometers (540 to 2300 square miles). At the
time of this writing, there hasn't been an official announcement of
the companies selected for the exploitation of the five blocks that
comprise de Platform. When the experts came to read the list of
the chosen ones, many voices have criticized that the selection
has been done behind closed doors, and not through a public and
transparent process. The first block, known as El Dorado, has
been granted to BP, and the second to BG Group and Chevron
Texaco under the title of "preferred partner". To grant directly an
oilstrip is not unusual, internationally speaking, but the main
argument for that decision is that, according to the "Unification
science", since those companies already control activities in the
Trinidad & Tobago area, they can work better in zones of shared
sea borders. In the website <www.petrofinanzas.com.ve> are
opinions from geologists that contradict this logic, claiming that
the better course of action would be to have two different
companies unifying the oilstrips, so that each one strives to
maximize profits.

According to the weekly newspaper La Razón, from Caracas (Issues 417
and 418), a high executive from BG named Guy admitted that the government
group that negotiated the Platform asked for a 100 million dollar as a commision.
Several political spokesmen confirm that the agreements, made in secret
and outside control from the National Assembly, are ripe for all
kinds of corruption.
Moreover, the long term granted to the multinationals -35 years-reminds us of
the colonial agreements of the Suez and Panama channels. Government spokesmen,
quoted by oil business expert Evanán Romero (La Razón, issue 418, page 4), have
dismissed these accusations, claiming that such natural gas grants lack economic
appeal to the State due to the long time required for a return of the
investments.


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