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Barbados: Offshore Oil Exploration

(Jan. 2, 2008) In June 2007, Barbados planned to launch an offshore oil and gas exploration bidding round with the goal of awarding contracts to the successful bidders by the end of that year. (Barbados to Launch Exploration Round June 1st, RIGZONE, Mar. 28, 2007, At present, there is no offshore exploration underway, but the Barbados National Oil Company produces approximately 1,000 barrels a day from onshore fields. Barbados reportedly has proven oil reserves of around 2.5 million barrels, in addition to 142 million cubic meters of natural gas reserves. (Barbados, WORLD OF INFORMATION AMERICAS REVIEW WORLD OF INFORMATION, July 30, 2007, LEXIS/NEXIS, WORLD Library, NEWS File.) The government hopes that further exploration in its Exclusive Economic Zone will reveal the existence of much larger reserves.

For many years, offshore exploration in the region was complicated by overlapping claims of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to the underwater area between the two countries. In 2006, a five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected the claims of the two countries that they could exploit reserves beyond the halfway line between them. The tribunal followed the principle of equidistance and established a single boundary between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. (Peter Richards, Caribbean: Maritime Rights Ruling Muddies the Waters, INTER PRESS SERVICE, Apr. 13, 2006, LEXIS/NEXIS, WORLD Library, NEWS file.) Following this ruling, the Government of Barbados enacted the Offshore Petroleum Act (2007 Barb. Laws, No. 30). This law vests all petroleum and natural gas in the Crown, but invites foreign companies to apply for exploration licenses. Companies that discover new reserves can apply for production licenses after submitting development and decommission plans. The Law requires licensees to follow best industry practices, establishes environmental protection duties and health and safety standards, and it requires the use of Barbadian workers. The Law also allows the Crown to require a percentage interest in a license and gives it the power to take over operations. Despite these terms, there was considerable interest in the launching of the new bidding round for oil and gas exploration licenses.