UPDATE 2-Trinidad says negotiations with Venezuela on gas project to happen soon
(Adds Shell confirming potential role)
By Curtis Williams
PORT OF SPAIN, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Keith Rowley on Friday told Parliament his government had been in touch with Venezuela following a U.S. license to jointly develop a key gas field, and the first meetings to begin negotiations have been set up.
The United States last week issued a two-year license allowing Trinidad to jointly develop a promising offshore gas field on the Venezuelan side of the maritime border, an authorization that Rowley's government sought to help overcome the Caribbean nation's gas deficit.
Shell Plc, which produces in Trinidad, could operate the Dragon gas field in Venezuela if President Nicolas Maduro's government extends it a license. Shell is expected to provide guidance soon on timing for first gas production from the project, Rowley said.
"This matter is one that requires state-to-state communication. The first hurdle has been crossed," he said.
A Shell spokesperson confirmed it was a potential participant under the U.S. authorization that enables Trinidad to "reengage in work on the Dragon Project."
The Dragon field is owned by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, which discovered the gas reserves and built the field's infrastructure. But the project has remained idled for over a decade on a lack of investment and U.S. sanctions.
A delegation from Trinidad and Tobago led by energy minister Stuart Young is expected to visit Caracas in the coming days to begin discussions on the Caribbean nation's aims of importing Venezuelan gas, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Trinidad's energy ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Even though the U.S. license authorizes companies from Trinidad to do business with PDVSA, a set of agreements signed in 2018 by Trinidad and Venezuela must be renegotiated in order to progress to specific contracts, the people said.
The U.S. license to Trinidad bans any cash payments to the administration of Maduro, who lashed out at Washington's restrictions this week, calling them a form of "colonialism." (Reporting by Curtis Williams; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien)