In 2009 Trinidad and Tobago awarded a license to Petroleum Co. of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. to explore tar sands at Parrylands-Guapo fields, which are thought to contain 2 billion barrels of oil. The fields are just south of the La Brea Pitch Lake.
The country's Energy Minister said the award would allow state-owned Petrotrin to quantify the exact size of the reserves and determine the amount of recoverable bitumen, including identifying the technology to extract the bitumen and produce synthetic crude. The study also will look at environmental risks, including to local aquifers, and would determine the project's financial feasibility. He said Trinidad and Tobago was trying to follow the Canadian model of extraction as it has taken place in Alberta
In December 2011 Energy Affairs Minister Kevin Christian Ramnarine visited India to pursue an oil upgrader project with Indian multinational Reliance Industries. He said the upgrader would be used to refine heavy oil, which he described as a "tremendous resource that has been largely under-utilised over the last 100 years".
Petrotrin is now due to provide data to Reliance –India's largest private sector firm with extensive interests in energy – about its heavy oil resources in the Gulf of Paria and on land. Andrew McIntosh, President of Trinidad and Tobago's government owned National gas company also mentioned Trinidad's tar sands. The bitumen in the tar sands, also known as oil sands, located in the southern basin of Trinidad, can be squeezed out and put through various stages to make it acceptable to a refinery.
It would therefore monetise the heavy oil, which has hitherto figured only to a very minimal extent in crude production, thus increasing the country's oil output and monetise the tar sands, which will also add to crude production.
An Institute of Energy and Mining has recently been established, specifically to ready the industry for tar sands development when it comes. It is claimed that Trinidad tar sands can eventually yield as much as 30,000 b/d of extra crude production and, though it is more expensive to recover than the country's traditional medium to light oil, is eminently commercial at the current oil price of around US$100 a barrel. The Institute will "cater for the specific needs of what, in effect, will be an entirely new part of the local oil industry".
Environmental groups are opposed to tar sands. Priya Ganness-Nanton, a social and environmental activist, has successfully opposed industrial projects in Trinidad and Tobago and is pledging to fight to prevent tar sands extraction. "This is not going to happen in my country," she told the Trinidad and Tobago press.
Dossier: Unconventional Oil - A Challenge for Local Communities
With conventional oil production in decline, the global oil industry is investing heavily in dirtier and riskier forms of oil and also in unconventional resources, such as tar sands, and oil shale. All are difficult and costly to produce, usually more carbon intensive than conventional oil and may have calamitous long-term impacts on the local environment. Documented by Christopher Walker Dossier »