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With its annual import bill going way beyond the US$1B mark, authorities in Jamaica are scrambling to sign off agreements with international firms to begin a new round of off and onshore drilling for oil and gas, convinced that its geographic location looking north to the Gulf of Mexico should greatly enhance its chances.

Tullow Oil of the UK which already has experience working in the Caribbean trade group, is one of the companies in the sights of authorities as the state-run Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCOJ) prepares for the latest in a series of failed efforts since 1955 for the island to become a producer and possibly exporter of oil and gas.

“There is oil and gas in our territory in commercial quantities,” PCOJ boss Christopher Cargill told the Observer Newspaper recently. “I know it. And I am convinced that it can be a game-changer for our country.”

But despite the enthusiasm being exhibited by the agency, officials are attempting to manage expectations by reminding islanders that seismic exploratory surveys could run for at least 18 months and drilling for another 18.

The PCOJ says that while there have been previous attempts onshore in Jamaica, this time it is targeting waters off the south of Jamaica, encouraged by data from previous attempts which contain indications of deposits of both oil and gas. Whether these are in commercial quantities are yet to be determined officials said.

The latest attempt to find deposits in Jamaica failed in 2012 but officials say the presence of a big and reputable player like Tullow Oil and its technology could make a difference this time.

Tullow and a consortium that had also involved Spanish giant Repsol and CGX Energy of Canada last year had abandoned a very promising deep water well off the Guyana coast fearing that further drilling could have led to a spill similar to that which British Petroleum had experienced in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago.

Work could resume next year on the well as there is every indication that it contains hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil.

If Jamaica does in fact net oil or gas, it would join two other Caribbean trade bloc members-Trinidad and Suriname as producers. Trinidad, the most southerly of the Caribbean island chain has been a producer and exporter for decades. Prospectors recently found oil in an offshore well in the southeast at a mere 600 feet.

Suriname’s story on the other hand is pure magic. Its state run water company was drilling artesian wells in the 70s when oil instead of water gushed from the bowels of the earth in the west of the country. It has never looked back ever since even building a refinery and is currently hoping that Repsol and others with offshore concession could strike it rich.

Guyana recently raised its optimism levels when Esso-Exxon announced plans just last month to begin drilling in a 26 million acre offshore concession off the south and north coasts by mid next year. And if Jamaica thinks it has potential, then the Bahamas does as well.

Authorities there say the Grand Bahama Island Bank represents the archipelago’s best chances of netting oil and officials are looking to raise $100M for the upcoming campaign, buoyed by efforts in neighboring Cuba to also become a producer or exporter even though their latest efforts had failed.

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