Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Bharath sees benefits in tar sand mining
Research on tar sand mining shows it is a serious threas to the environment but Trade and Industry Minister Vasant Bharath wants citizens to appreciate the economic activity to be derived from the industry. While Government is yet to consider a proposal from a Canadian company to set up an oil sand mining company in T&T, the minister told participants at a Southwest Local Economic Development (LED) Investment Forum in Point Fortin that the proposed US$5 billion project can produce an additional 50,000 barrels of oil per day to complement local oil production. Canadian firm Environment Recovery Solutions Limited (ERS) has expressed interest in setting up a plant in T&T, while geologist Herbert Sukhu said his company, Geominex Resources Limited (GRL), has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Trade Ministry for tar sands exploration in La Brea.
Bharath said: “Understand the economic activity and the benefits of the downstream, ancillary businesses that will develop as a direct result of an investment of such a magnitude. I am throwing that out because we need to start thinking differently if we are to develop our country. “The fact is that the rest of the world is moving ahead and we cannot afford to be left behind. We cannot afford to be stuck in partisan politics when it comes to the development of our country. Therefore, we will look at all of the areas, all of the investments, that come our way, with the view to ensuring...we do what is best for Trinidad and Tobago.” ERS and GRL both claim their plants use environmentally friendly methods to extract oil from sand. In a 2011 report, Prudent Development: Realizing the Potential of North America’s Abundant Natural Gas and Oil Resources, the US National Petroleum Council cited health and safety concerns in oil sand mining, including the large volumes of water needed, removal of overburden for surface mining which can fragment wildlife habitats and increase the risk of soil erosion or surface run-off and air emissions from production.
Bharath insisted, however, that there is “new technology that is available today, that is not invasive to the environment”. The LED project, a partnership between the Inter-American Development Bank, Atlantic and the University of the West Indies, is aimed at creating a model for socio-economic growth in communities along Trinidad’s south western peninsula. Government has identified financial services, ICT, tourism, agro-processing, creative industries, maritime and down stream energy services as areas of economic diversification, but Bharath said the challenge is encouraging local investors. He said there is more than $7 billion of potential local investments lying idly in banks. The minister said Government public sector programmes are not as sustainable as private sector investment. He said T&T’s economic growth is increasing, with 2013 showing 1.5 per cent climb and a recent World Bank projection for a further increase of more than two per cent this year
Bharath said Government’s decision in 2012 to focus on agriculture, fishing and tourism to create other means of sustainable revenue led to a drastic reduction in food inflation. He said during his tenure as Food Production Minister, a three-year plan was developed, which included 4,500 acres of arable Caroni lands that were used for agricultural production. “Today, we’ve seen some of the fruits of that in that the agricultural sector in 2013 grew by five per cent and we are now seeing food inflation below ten per cent. In 2010, food inflation was well into the high twenties,” the minister said.