July Exploration Tender in Jamaica Could Attract 5 Bidders

Jamaica's state oil company Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) expects five large oil companies to submit bids for 24 five-year exploration licenses on July 15, the company's managing director Raymond Wright told BNamericas.

"At the moment we have sold data packages to eight large companies," he said, adding his conservative estimate is that five of those companies will present firm bids. Jamaica is offering four onshore and 20 offshore blocks to foreign companies to try to balance its foreign currency accounts, which are negatively affected by imports of 91% of the country's 28.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per year (mboe/y) energy needs.

Although nine onshore and two offshore wells have been drilled since 1955, there is no production in Jamaica despite the presence of both oil and gas, Wright said.

The idea is to use new seismic research and production technology to determine the possibility of finding commercially feasible reserves. The company is sponsoring the reprocessing of up to 11,160km of seismic data that will be made available for interested companies from May 2005.

"The oil found in Jamaica is similar to the crude produced in the US state of Arkansas and the country of Belize," Wright said, adding that the island's geological profile is similar to those regions where oil is found in deep wells.

Jamaica's strategy is to attract foreign investors to produce oil while PCJ continues to operate and expand its refining operations. "We drilled two wells ourselves in the 1980s but we can't, at this moment, afford to explore for oil," Wright said.

PJC and Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA have signed a letter of intent to expand Jamaica's existing 36,000 barrels of oil a day (b/d) heavy crude refinery to 50,000-60,000b/d, to produce asphalt and lighter derivatives, giving Jamaica the potential to export refined products to the US and other Caribbean companies, he said.

Investment in the project will range from US$300mn to US$500mn depending on whether PDVSA invests alone or together with local companies. PDVSA could also participate in retail operations in the island, he said. PCJ has also started talks with Brazil's federal energy company Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) to participate in the project.

"The project will create a market for the heavy crude of these companies [PDVSA and Petrobras]," he said. Meanwhile, Jamaica expects to wrap up a feasibility study in October for a US$240mn re-gasification plant as part of an agreement signed with Trinidadian authorities to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from that country. "An investment decision should be taken in the fourth quarter and commissioning of the plant is scheduled for 4Q08," he said declining to give details on commercial settlements.

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