By Curtis Williams
(Reuters) -Shell PLC has given financial approval for the development of the massive Manatee gas field offshore Trinidad and Tobago, the country's Prime Minister Keith Rowley said on Thursday.
Trinidad is Latin America's largest LNG exporter, but its flagship Atlantic LNG project no longer receives enough gas supply to keep its four liquefaction units running. The government in recent years has sought to accelerate new gas projects to restore operations and feed its petrochemical industry.
The Caribbean nation can process up to 4.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas into LNG, petrochemicals and electricity, but currently is producing about 2.7 bcfd.
Shell has sought environmental approval to proceed but has not made a final investment decision, a spokesperson said.
"The application for a CEC (Certificate of Environmental Clearance) is a regulatory requirement of the EMA and is required for the Manatee project," said Shell spokesperson Cynthia Babski.
"We are unable to confirm the First Gas dates as the project has not yet achieved Final Investment Decision."
The Manatee field is part of the cross-border Loran-Manatee discovery, shared by Trinidad and Venezuela. The field holds some 10 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, with 7.3 tcf on Venezuela's side and the remaining 2.7 tcf on Trinidad's side.
The countries negotiated for years to jointly develop the reservoir and signed preliminary agreements, but a final agreement had not been completed by the time the U.S. imposed sanctions in 2019 on Venezuela's energy industry, limiting its partnerships and business with foreign companies.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro later agreed to allow Trinidad to independently develop its portion of the promising field.
"The Manatee project is sanctioned and is well on the way," Rowley said at a news conference in Port of Spain. "We are taking steps to have that gas come to us as early as we can."
Earlier this year, Shell submitted, and the government of Trinidad and Tobago accepted, the field development plan that calls for peak production of 700 million cubic feet per day (mcfd) of gas. Rowley did not say when first gas is expected from Manatee.
Rowley said his country continues to pursue access to natural gas resources, both in terms of new offshore bidding rounds in Trinidad and also from Venezuela's Dragon field, which received a U.S. license for joint development in January.
(Reporting by Curtis Williams in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)