Should the PNM form the next government it will not sacrifice older petrochemical plants in favour of new plants as it grapples with the continued shortage of natural gas. This was the assurance given to the downstream industry by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley who told a luncheon hosted by the Energy Chamber last week that the PNM rejected such a policy.
Dr Rowley said there have been indicators coming from the Persad-Bissessar administration that one of the ways to deal with the natural gas curtailment was to ensure that the gas went to the most efficient plants which meant that the older plants would have to make way for more modern petrochemical plants.
The Opposition Leader's argument was that such an approach would lead to a loss of investor confidence and would come at a time when the government has already led the country into arbitration with investors who had committed to building an aluminium industry.
He said the challenge of gas curtailment cannot be wished away and estimated that the country had already lost $10 billion in revenues and the private sector has also been hurting.
The Opposition Leader described it as an impending crisis which has impugned the reputation of Trinidad and Tobago as a reliable gas supplier and action had to be taken to get the additional gas brought onshore.
His message was welcomed by the downstreamers with the president of the Pont Lisas Executives Association, Ian Welch, saying the issue was a major one for the sector.
He said, "Dr Rowley dealt with the issue head on. It's one that is of significant importance for our sector and we are gratified and pleased to see that its receiving attention and recognition and will be on the frontburner of the nation's agenda."
Welch confirmed that there are times that the gas shortage has been as high as 25 per cent.
In an interview with BG, Welch said, "We have a curtailment of upwards of 10 per cent. Depending on the kind of activity onshore and offshore, it can fluctuate in that kind of range so it is an accurate reflection of what the situation is."
He also dismissed the suggestion that the older plants were a drain on the system and that they were inefficient.
"In our type of business we continually reinvest, for example, in our facilities. Now we have a very significant investment going on as we speak, so if you ask me today, what is the age of our facility or what is the life expectancy I would tell you indefinite and that is because of the continuous reinvestment.
"The rhetoric between older and newer plants, yes there may be differences in technology but I can tell you we always spend money to upgrade and keep ahead. You have to otherwise you will fall by the wayside because you have become an unsafe operation," Welch told BG.
Welch acknowledged that shale gas continues to impact the global petrochemicals industry but said he was not worried about shale.
"There is lots of investments in the United States, lots of competition, but we try not to worry about competition. We try to do what we do to the best of our ability so, no matter what the competition, we are able to do well. So our thrust is to ensure that our plants remain competitive and once we are competitive we are sure we can remain relevant."
On the issue of low petrochemical prices, Welch said it is the nature of the energy sector and he was concerned that the country was not having the right conversation as it relates to energy prices.
"We live in a cyclical business. We are in a down cycle now and, in my career, I have seen several and we can ride out of it with the right focus and management."
Welch added: "Everybody asks me about when do I see oil coming back up, and the conversation is when its coming back up and where it is going to get to.
"That should not be the conversation. The conversation should be what are we doing about it to survive in the current situation."