The Caribbean is no newcomer to oil

The rhetorical question has been raised: is the Caribbean the next global oil-producing region? Truth is: the Caribbean is no newcomer to oil.

Some of the earliest commercial attempts to mine oil were made in the southern Caribbean. Today the Caribbean has more proven oil reserves than could have been imagined when the first successful attempts to drill for oil were made in Trinidad 150 years ago.

For much of the 20th century Venezuela was known as a foremost global oil supplier and said to have the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Yet, recent successes in exploration off the northern South American shoreline have created great excitement. It is this global excitement and the long-term prospects and implications for the Caribbean that inspired the Portside Caribbean Special Feature: Caribbean Oil.

How will the development of the Liza oilfield off the coast of Guyana affect that country? Indeed, how will the expansion of the oil production in the southern Caribbean affect national economies in this vast sea of sovereign states? As the old man said: only time will tell. What we do know is that things never remain the same where oil has been found. And, in the massive country of Guyana, nothing different ought to be expected.

Oil apparently brings great hope but stirs trepidation in a region where clean, green and pristine are the underpinnings of one of the great pillars of national economies, i.e. Tourism.


In gleanings to produce Special Feature: Caribbean Oil, information came to the surface that may stimulate further thought. For example:

  • Tanker cargoes of LPG and LNG to East Asia are transiting the Panama Canal in ever increasing volumes. (A new record was set on October 1, 2018 with the transit of four LNG ships on the same day. The previous record, three tankers, lasted just six months).
  • Oil discharge to the marine environment must be expected wherever oil is mined and may be caused by natural seepage or spills from ocean-based and land-based sources.
  • The Caribbean is home to more than 140 million barrels of commercial storage for crude and refined products.
  • Caribbean deep water ports present shippers the opportunity to bring small cargoes of oil from around the Americas; blend different grades of crude to meet buyer’s specifications and to fill super tankers destined for Asia or Europe.

Random gleanings suggest that there are many (direct and indirect) economic benefits that could flow northwards through the Caribbean from an expanded oil industry in the south, even in this age of enlightenment and a continuing transition to models of sustainable development. Yet, the spectre of environmental disaster, off shore and on shore, looms large and is never far away. []

  • First Published March 1, 2019

Mike Jarrett, Editor-in-chief