Jamaica to Begin Oil Exploration Soon

Five international companies have submitted proposals to the Jamaican government to analyze oil and gas exploration data. Government officials did not name the companies involved. Only one will be selected and the decision will be announced within the next week, according to the government's adviser on commerce, science and technology, Peter King.

In a statement, King said oil and gas exploration was expected to begin later this year. The government has so far put up US$100,000 to start the project. Jamaica has explored for oil and natural gas in the past, but all efforts were unsuccessful. Petroleum industry officials, however, believe there are oil and gas deposits offshore and insist it is in Jamaica's interest to continue the process of exploration, which first started 35 years ago.

Jamaica spends heavily on oil and gas imports each year, at an estimated cost this year in the region of $800,000. Most of Jamaica's petroleum comes from Venezuela and Mexico, with Ecuador a minor supplier.

Jamaica's energy sector officials want to import natural gas from Caribbean neighbor Trinidad & Tobago as it tries to reduce its dependence on crude oil imports. Officials say they intend to cut the use of crude oil by 65 percent over the next two years.

Negotiations have been stormy so far, with Jamaica insisting there should be a favorable payment regime for the north Caribbean nation due to the good relations between the countries. Trinidad & Tobago remains adamant that there will be no favorable arrangements with Jamaica.

The Jamaican government's special envoy on energy, Anthony Hylton, disclosed recently that talks had started with officials from Qatar for that country to supply Jamaica with natural gas.

Jamaica hopes to use natural gas mainly to run bauxite plants, as well as the main electricity company and other large industrial agencies here during the first phase of the project.