LNG, The Valley of the Shadow...

Marcia Forbes PhD

Trigger Topic
Why is LNG such a trigger topic? Never in my many years of writing for the newspapers has an article triggered so many responses and from so far afield, including Trinidad, Barbados, France and USA. Responses to the July 3rd article, Talk is Cheap! Is LNG?, came from several total strangers. Equally strange to me was that many described the article as “brave”, “fearless” and “nationalistic”. Why? What was so brave and fearless about questioning the marketing approach of LNG to the nation and charging Jamaicans to hold our leaders accountable for delivering on promises to us? Is it because anyone who does this is painted as “fighting LNG” and therefore subjected to attempts at public ridicule? Why do so many politicians seem to think they are above tough questions/comments from the public they serve?

Interestingly, several of the writers, in particular the local ones, urged me to be careful. Careful of what? What do these people know that I don’t? And what does the person writing under the pseudonym, mango brains, in Observer’s on-line comments in response to my article know when he talks about “the debacle that the OCG will find from his investigations.”? What does Jean Lowrie Chin know when in her July 5 article, We’re not going to take it anymore, she notes that “I maintain that in this land of sunshine we are not seriously looking at solar energy because there is no kick-back in it for anyone – the sun is just too free – not like petroleum or LNG”?

Regarding the LNG project, I know of neither “debacle” nor “kick-back”! In my short 4 month stint at the Ministry of Energy I only know about efforts to “fast track” certain processes and can say that I stood strongly for doing the right thing, even if this meant slowing the track by following established procurement guidelines. That is all I know!! So the journalists and talk show hosts (local and international) can desist from calling me about LNG. My ‘tweetrines’ can stop asking me to ‘talk de tings dem’. I have said what I know.

Anyway regarding being careful, to be forewarned is to be forearmed and I thank those who have written and called in such caring ways. In writing this second article pertaining to LNG, I therefore invoke Devine Protection through the 23rd Psalm. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me….” I now write under the cover of the Blood of Jesus and as Thinking Citizen Forbes with a right to ask tough questions of our political leaders, including those who rely on others to call down charges of destabilizing strategies and bad-mindedness in their defense. My motive is the best deal for Jamaica and the future of our next generation!!

More Questions
Based on the weight of information, including a recently published energy book sent no doubt in response to my LNG article, I feel constrained to pose a few more inconvenient questions.

Where is the Comprehensive Energy Plan?
If, as the esteemed Dr. Raymond Wright explains in his book, “natural gas is regarded as a transition fuel as we move away from oil towards a new energy agenda that will include renewables”, why in this LNG thrust are we not concurrently hearing about the timetable, timelines, approaches and budgets for the inclusion of renewables in our plans? Surely LNG is not the solution to ALL our energy woes, as important a part of the mix as it might be! We need to plan long-term.

Jamaica deserves a comprehensive energy plan (separate from the policy) that is properly thought through and to which we can hold our leaders. For too long politicians have had a piecemeal approach to policies and plans for Jamaica, with decisions and directions frequently based on what will make a politician look like ‘star boy’ while he stands under the stage light of Minister. Anyone with the temerity to appear to block some of the light, even if only by asking questions, will be quickly shoved away, vilified, ridiculed and branded as not caring about the Jamaican economy. This includes Contractor General Greg Christie whose foray into LNG now seems to be causing howls for his removal.

FSRU & Hurricane
In our hurricane prone Jamaica where half of every year is ‘hurricane season’ and with plans for a single Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU), what happens when the island is placed on alert for a category 5 hurricane? Will the FSRU have to seek safe harbour? If so, how early would it need to leave and how far out at sea would it need to go? What happens to Jamaica’s energy supply during that time? In other words, what’s our back-up hurricane plan? Additionally will the FSRU just keep going like the Duracell Bunny or will the entire unit need to be taken out of service sometimes for routine maintenance? If so, for how long and again, what’s the back-up plan? I have no doubt that Exmar and other experts have answers and explanations and am sure many of us would be happy to hear them.

In Closing
It is my constitutional right to demand answers from public servants, politicians included. I dance to my own music of conviction that honest people must ask honest questions. Too many important decisions that concern my country are made in the valley of shadows of ignorance, if not of corruption. I support LNG but not in an uncritical manner and where necessary will question the process and the progress. If we all understood everything about the LNG Deal there’d probably be no need for questions!! Now, let’s see how Mr. Christie’s efforts at honest answers pans out. Will he be fired before he gets them?