Updated: Nov 2, 2020
India and Africa (two of the three oldest civilizations) were prospering until colonialism set back their progress in immeasurable ways. The majority of Trinidad and Guyana’s populations are descendants of enslaved Africans and Indian indentured servants. Though these countries are now independent, this quote from President Eric Williams should serve as a warning for Caribbean nations with emerging energy industries: “Trinidad and Tobago attracted metropolitan attention only. . .when the discovery of oil made it an object of interest and . . .useful pawn” to British capitalism.
Trinidad’s economy was primarily based on sugarcane and cocoa in colonial times. In the 1900s, the agricultural market was surpassed by the modern oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry still reigns today. Walter Darwent, a former soldier in the American Civil War, drilled the first successful oil well at Aripero in 1865. He died and the oil industry was on hold for 30 years. John Lee Lum then partnered with Randolph Rust and began large-scale oil production in 1913. This site has been designated as a historic site. Petroleum became Trinidad’s main export in the 1950s.
In 1974, and after Trinidad gained independence, the global increase in oil prices directly benefited Trinidad. Trinidad had an estimated TT$694 million surplus. President Eric Williams even advised the nation that “money is no problem.” Correspondingly, the government improved social and economic policies relating to pensions, food prices, schooling, transportation, utilities, and taxation. The government also acquired oil sugar, cement, and asphalt companies. The booming economy saw increased construction and employment.
In the 1990s, the oil sector shifted to mostly natural gas. An energy expert opined that the future of the nation is natural gas: “In the long run, gas has more potential for value-added. Trinidad is sitting on many wells that are gas prone rather than oil rich.” Moreover, the Minister of Energy announced in September that the Broadside well in TTDAA3 will be the deepest drill depth in Trinidad. The announcement is important because it highlights progress in Trinidad’s hydrocarbon exploration.
Trinidad’s oil industry initially started with American dominance and British rule. Once free, Trinidad’s economy boomed when it controlled its own industry. On the other hand, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are still reeling from American and European interference as a means to control the oil in the Middle East. This should serve as a lesson for Trinidad’s hydrocarbon exploration, and also Guyana as Guyana emerges as a rising oil producing nation.
Primary Resources: Eric Williams’s History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, and Bridget Bereton’s An Introduction to the History of Trinidad and Tobago.
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Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a civil transaction/litigation and bankruptcy attorney. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a minor degree in History that focused on the slavery and indentured servitude eras, a minor degree in Criminology, and a Juris Doctor degree.
MDGR Law, P.A.