It is often difficult to stop and take stock of a major initiative while it is underway. But that is what is occurring in Mexico as the year draws to a close and the nation charges forward with its historic energy reform efforts. Lessons learned from the public bidding process of Round One, as well as measures to rewrite the regulatory and investment framework continue to be organic, that is living and evolving. And the government has displayed an earnest desire to adapt and rethink its vision as milestones are reached and challenges emerge. Particularly with regard to upstream tenders, global insights from industry and stakeholders have been well-received.
On November 18, over 75 representatives from the Mexican government, industry, academia, and civil society convened in Mexico City for the Institute of the Americas’ Mexico Oil & Gas Roundtable. The Roundtable offered a robust half-day discussion of key issues and focused on the question of: What is the vision?
As the country moves along the process of tendering oil and gas blocks, as well as throwing open its midstream and downstream sectors of the hydrocarbons chain, there have been immediate lessons learned. Of the myriad practices being absorbed in Mexico, government officials noted that three stand out: 1) Oil and gas is first and foremost a geology business; 2) Striking the right balance between risk and return for oil and gas investment demands never-ending consideration and evaluation; 3) The oil and gas business is a global one and thus competition for investment and capital occurs not on a regional but rather a global scale and stage.
Throughout the Roundtable, plaudits from industry participants were underscored by the government for the speed that energy reform is being implemented. But at the same time, there were voices that noted caution is required in order to insure that the current pace provides for a consistent and sustainable path.
Panelists urged the government to take care and be careful not to overreach and create an environment where it is more of a running-in-place mentality as opposed to forward progress as the increasingly complicated layers of energy reform unfold. Clearly, there are concerns of overburdening the government bureaucracy and overextending nascent agencies. How much additional bandwidth exists and can legitimately be tapped in the coming weeks and months must be considered.
In the opinion of several participants, the next 12 months will determine not just the success of energy reform, but also go a long way to defining the next 12 years for Mexico’s oil and gas sector. Indeed, when it comes to the most appropriate contract model for the upcoming tender of deepwater blocks the focus should be on creating the environment for a “good contract.” This means less concern over the contract model itself and more focus on the elements that will make bidding attractive, competitive and balanced with returns for the nation. Clearly, the government has a greater appreciation for the nature of global competition than it did earlier this year. The development and publication of the Plan Quinquenal or Five Year Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Plan marked an important step as to the vision for industry and the nation alike.
Beyond the issue of competition and drawing up balanced investment opportunities, the issue of social impact and role of local communities has also been thrust to the fore as a key challenge for the implementation of energy reform.
The reform legislation created important legal instruments and regulations to manage social and environmental impacts, but government officials admitted that staff levels, attention to and understanding of the topic may not be commensurate with the sheer magnitude of the challenge. The opening of the energy sector has created a new horizon for investment, and increased the number of sector participants, projects and infrastructure in communities with little to no understanding of or exposure to the basics of interaction with private firms or even federal energy authorities. It is a concern that government and industry alike share and agree requires increased attention.
Collaboration across all facets of industry, government and civil society is necessary, with all parties sharing responsibility. The concept of a social license to operate and what that entails merits further awareness. Indeed, as with the bidding and investment elements, there are a host of international examples to draw from with regards to best practices for community relations and avoiding costly and undesired unrest across the country.