Panama’s economy has been booming. High rise buildings and green entryways to Panama City’s new state-of-the art metro have been seemingly sprouting overnight. Foreign Direct Investment grew 32 percent in the first quarter of 2015 and over the last five years, Panama has been one of the region’s fastest growing economies, averaging annual growth on the order of 8 percent. The country’s economic growth has, not surprisingly, also led to spiking demand for energy. Some estimates project power demand growth of around 150 MW per year over the next several years.
Almost 100 representatives from Panama, the United States and across Latin America gathered in Panama City on Sep. 22 to debate how Panama can strike the appropriate balance between continued economic growth and corresponding energy supplies.
In acknowledging the boom, Secretary of Energy Victor Carlos Urrutia underscored that rapid growth has its impacts. Critical for Panama is how the government balances a market approach with continuing to provide secure, reliable access for all citizens of Panama. With the recent adjudication of a major 350 MW tender and contract for the country’s first ever natural gas fired power station, by way of LNG imports, the country is on the cusp of an energy revolution. How the government manages the next 350MW tender, set for later this year, on the heels of the first award is being keenly watched.
Secretary Urrutia emphasized the Panamanian government’s efforts to develop a Strategic Energy Plan and to take into account all issues and options; what many call an “all-of-the-above” energy approach. The strategic vision, supported by Roberto Meana, the head of Panama’s regulatory body, ASEP, includes the thorny issue of reducing and targeting subsidies, market competitiveness, but also a dedicated effort to diversify the country’s energy matrix.
At the heart of the discussion were four overarching themes: the role for natural gas, the role for renewable energy, how to manage energy demand, and regional integration.
But it was the role of natural gas that provoked the most debate during the course of the discussions at the Roundtable. The award of a 350 MW project to Gas Natural Atlántico, a subsidiary of AES Corporation, will bring on-line within 30 months Panama’s first natural gas-fired power plant at an estimated cost of $800 – 900 million.
Moreover, the future for natural gas in Panama’s energy matrix beyond just power generation, and more specifically the issue of open access and how the entire country will benefit from the fuel’s arrival in 2018 is a matter of debate between the government policymakers, regulators and private sector.
Adding to the discussion is the Panama Canal.
Deputy Administrator Manuel Benitez discussed the Panama Canal’s efforts underway to study the possibility of building an LNG receiving terminal for power generation and also with the aim of bunkering and providing LNG for ship borne propulsion, particularly as more stringent ship emissions come into effect in the coming years. As a related element, the expansion of the Panama Canal is slated for inauguration in April 2016. Once the new locks enter into operation, the Canal will be able to accommodate 92% of the world’s ships according to Deputy Administrator Benitez.
It also bears noting that in the discussion of regional integration, there was much applause for the advances of Central America’s Regional Interconnection System or SIEPAC and the Regional Electric Market. Indeed, panelists underscored how critical regional integration and the regional market were for Panama as the system provided much needed relief during the 2013 drought, which hindered the country’s hydropower generation capacity.
The next step for Panama is moving forward with electric interconnection with Colombia, or the Colombia-Panama Interconnection Project. The project has been complicated by numerous environmental and indigenous concerns and broader geopolitical issues. Yet, panelists at the Roundtable concurred that the ICP would be completed by 2020.
Panama has important energy hurdles ahead, but the level of debate and seriousness of focus set forth by policymakers and market participants alike at the Roundtable points to awareness and competency to confront and manage the coming challenges.
To wit, CNH has granted 22 permits for 11 private companies to conduct assessments and in-depth studies of various subsoil basins across Mexico. In order to synthesize the information contained in the permit applications, CNH will integrate all the appropriate data into a single map. In short, this effort is aimed at creating a national map and profile to show the best expectation for the industry on areas with the highest prospectivity in Mexico.
All of these pieces are part of CNH’s ongoing mission to facilitate investment at the same time as regulating and rendering the utmost transparency for the nation’s hydrocarbons.
A broader, more in-depth understanding of Mexico’s oil and gas potential will not only enable the government to continue to move forward on oil and gas bidding but also deepen the understanding across all of Mexico vis-à-vis the oil and gas sector. Information is increasingly available to anyone interested. In the oil and gas business, like many other technology driven enterprises, data is king.
Moving Mexico’s oil sector forward requires indefatigable efforts and an understanding that today’s failure often greatly informs tomorrow’s success. The turbulence of today’s oil market is not for the fainthearted and demands constant reappraisal of all facets of the bidding process. But Mexico is committed.
Today’s efforts from bidding to historic data and information gathering are intended to provide a window and boost to the future of the Mexican oil industry.