Five centuries ago, when explorers were sailing the globe in a bid to discover new lands, many passed through Caribbean waters on their way to the Americas. Among them was the British navigator, Sir Walter Raleigh, who – it is said – came across a ‘lake’ of asphalt on the south-western corner of Trinidad in the 1590s. Pitch Lake, as it is known today, is one of the world’s largest natural deposits of this sticky, black substance – created by deep deposits of oil that are forced to the surface, where the lighter elements of the hydrocarbon evaporate to leave behind the heavy asphalt. Adventurers such as Raleigh used the substance to seal their ships’ hulls, before continuing a voyage.
These days, exploration in the region is not about ﬁnding new territory to mark on an atlas, but identifying further hydrocarbon deposits hinted at by the ones those early navigators ﬁrst came across. The expanse of dark viscous material that seeps up through the ground at Pitch Lake provides visual conﬁrmation of the rich natural resources that lie beneath these islands’ surface and off their coastlines.
Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed its ﬁrst oil boom after 1910, although the abundant natural gas in its reservoirs was only fully appreciated several decades later. From the late 1970s, gas began to dominate the country’s energy market, as it does today. The dual-island nation produced more than 700,000 barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas on a daily basis in 2011, of which BP’s Trinidad and Tobago business – BPTT – contributed around 55%. The company operates 13 offshore platforms, onshore oil and gas processing terminals and is the largest shareholder in the liqueﬁed natural gas (LNG) company, Atlantic, with its four liquefaction units, or trains.