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North African Energy Targeted by Labor Concerns

746884-aus-bus-pix-libya-refineryAfter nearly two years of widespread political and social transitions across North Africa, protest and labor movements have continued to expand in hopes of making the most of the new political environment. While motivations may vary, these groups are increasingly targeting the region’s energy sector in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, commonly aiming their ire at foreign firms and their local subsidiaries.

Against a backdrop of regional unrest, these energy-aimed efforts are to continuing to increase and beginning to threaten what many feel is North Africa’s quickest and surest route to recovery and post-Arab Spring stability.

In many cases, protests and labor strikes have taken issue with what is felt to be a lack of common benefit from the region’s rich oil and gas production. From Tunis to Benghazi, this has centered on the complaint that far too little of the region’s oil and gas wealth and revenue is reaching local communities.

A Post Arab Spring Analysis

In Tunisia, critics have taken issue with what they feel is a lack of work opportunities for local workers offered by the country’s most prominent energy outfit, BG and their local subsidiary BG Tunisia. Facing a 17.6 percent post-revolution unemployment rate, Tunisia has been unable to keep up with and absorb the growth in increasingly skilled young workers, according to a World Bank report.

Facing a similar demand for more work opportunities, but without the spike in skilled labor, Libya has seen protest movements target oil and gas facilities across the country, including a December strike at one of the country’s busiest oil and gas ports, Ras Lanuf. Protestors began the New Year with a strike at the Zueitina oil terminal, situated just east of Tripoli. According to the country’s Oil and Gas Minister, Abdul Bari Laroussi, the shutdown has come with a demand to employ 1,500 local residents and cost the country an estimated $1 million a day in lost revenue.

Additionally, Libya has seen protest groups use energy facilities to voice concerns about a variety of issues, most notably political representation. Shortly before the country’s first post-revolution election, armed militias occupied refineries in El-Sider, Ras Lanuf and Brega, shutting down half of the country’s export capacity. Their actions were aimed at increasing the number of seats reserved for the country’s oil-rich eastern provinces and shifting more authority over energy issues to the city of Benghazi.

Despite having largely escaped the kind of public protests that led to political transitions across the region, Algeria has faced its own share of protests aimed at the incredibly valuable oil and gas sector. Even before the Arab Spring protests began, Algeria faced a pushback from the country’s large number of unemployed for what they felt to be a lack of opportunities for local workers. Undoubtedly the country’s largest economic force, Algeria’s oil and gas production accounts for 98 percent of their export revenue and a large percentage of government funding. State efforts to curb these protests through increasing government incentives spending and a tighter security environment have worked in the short term. However, protests have continued to flare up as resentment builds around a lack of benefits seen across the country as well as wider uncertainty about what will follow the expected retirement of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika before scheduled elections in 2014.

According to a Bloomberg report, dwindling oil reserves and uncertainty have made the country’s relative calm difficult to sustain.

“Pacification through finance can’t go on forever,” Azzedine Layachi, a professor of international and Middle East affairs at St. John’s University in New York and Rome, told Bloomberg. “Everything is in shutdown mode until 2014 and that’s when we’ll see what direction Algeria takes.”

An Uncertain Landscape for Foreign Investors

In all three national cases, further labor unrest and protests aimed at energy sector actors could have a significant effect on the ability to attract much-needed investment and interest from foreign firms. In Libya, this means the ability to promote the full return of companies that halted operations in the midst of the civil violence that brought down the government of Muammar Gadaffi and move beyond pre-conflict levels to ensure future growth. While Tunisia is putting less emphasis on energy reserves as a means of economic recovery, continuing unrest does threaten to put off further investment from companies like BG, which provides over half of the country’s natural gas demand.

Last year, sit-ins at processing plants spurred talks between the company and local leaders, concluding in pledges for greater attention to local hires, including training options. Recently the company has said that while they would not consider leaving the county as a result of the sit-ins, they did not see themselves in a wider labor role.

“We continue to work in Tunisia and to explore new opportunities. Although the phenomenon of sit-ins and strikes is annoying, the group will not leave the country for all that,” Sami Iskander, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of BG, Africa, Middle East and Asia told the Tunisian News Agency, but added, “the main purpose of the group is the production and supply of gas in the country and not creating jobs.”

Currently BG provides about 60 percent of Tunisia’s natural gas demand and employs about 1,000 employees.

Finally, further unrest in Algeria could prove troubling to the government’s recent push towards introducing unconventional shale exploration efforts to the country. Boasting significant domestic potential, Algeria will have to first deal with significant foundational investments associated with the shale excavation process in terms of both machinery and technical expertise. To help cope with these early expenses, the national government and the state-backed Sonatrach have unveiled new revenue sharing agreements and taxing schemes aimed at appealing to foreign investors with shale experience. Already known as a risky investment in the region, Algeria could prove even more uninviting if protests and strikes continue to expand.

So far, these protests have elicited little more from state officials than targeted actions according to each, specific case. However, according to the Agence France-Presse, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened to impose “order by force” in to address those actions that threaten the country’s energy sector.

“Oil is our only source of revenue,” he said, according to the AFP report. “We will not allow any (armed) force to confront the people and threaten national security. I warn families, tribes and regions that we will take decisive measures.”

While Tripoli’s hard line may prove effective in garnering local support, it is far less clear whether it will provide the sense of stability needed for foreign firms to return to the region.

Image: The Australian

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s AfrOil Monitor

 

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Qatar Lays Downstream Foundation in North Africa

As investors and development teams from Europe and the United States keep their cautious distance from the uncertainty of North Africa after the Arab Spring, some financial support and confidence is arriving on the Mediterranean shores, perhaps none more substantial than that of Qatar.

Active and present from early on in the rapidly changing capitals of Cairo and Tunis, Qatari representatives have stepped up their support in recent weeks, signaling a willingness to contribute, including downstream efforts that could prove vital to the region’s recovery and future growth.

Eager to strengthen ties in the region, especially in those states that have seen a shift in political leadership over the past year, Qatar began outlining a series of financial programs earlier this year. In Tunisia, a dormant refinery project was revived in May after Qatar announced that they would again put forth the $2 billion necessary to support a refinery project that could see the country’s output capacity increase fourfold. Boasting an initial output of 120,000 bpd, the plant will eventually produce 250,000 bpd upon completion, as well as 1,200 jobs. By aiding in a post-Tunisia’s efforts to reduce heavy dependence on foreign energy resources and even move them towards a possible role as refined product exports, Qatar is hoping to sew the seeds of good will with the post-Ben Ali government.

In addition to cultivating a relationship with the new government in Libya, Qatar has also worked to help the development of downstream energy projects in a post-revolution Egypt. Earlier this year, Qatar announced a $3.7 billion financing agreement with the Egyptian Refining Company to help support a refining project there, with the Qatar Petroleum set to take on a 25.3 percent stake in the effort, according to a Bloomberg report. Shortly after, the Qatar Investment authority announced a sprawling $18 billion investment plan, with $8 billion set aside for electricity and natural gas projects to the East of the Suez Canal.

The expansion of a North African footprint comes as Qatar has extended its reach into the energy sector, including several recent purchases and expansions of stakes in energy companies across North Africa and Europe. The new funding agreements also challenge the tide of recent state and private investors who have acted with caution when dealing with North African nations.

Image: North Africa United

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s Downstream MENA Issue

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Energy Proves Vital in MENA Economic and Political Outlook

A recent IMF report outlining the economic outlook of MENA states painted a positive but cautious portrait of North African states after the Arab Spring, with both potential and obstacles linked to the fortunes of the region’s energy sector.

From Rabat to Cairo, the post-Arab Spring region will depend heavily on energy use and production plans to get them through the next year, according to the IMF’s biannual Regional Economic Outlook Update for the Middle East and Central Asia report.

The Producers

Unsurprisingly, the IMF report painted a rosier picture for oil and gas exporting states in the region, though they were quick to add that significant obstacles to growth and economic stability remained, mostly in the form of political uncertainties, periphery conflicts and the lingering impact of the European debt crisis.

In the case of countries like Algeria, Spain’s second recession in four years does little to help the government’s ability to keep natural gas revenues in line with public spending needed to keep an increasingly agitated population happy. For government officials in Algiers, oil revenues would need to stay at least above $100 a barrel to cover the expense of the country’s subsidy programs and state spending, according to a Financial Times report.

Instead of reducing government support systems, Algeria has moved to expand them with this week’s announcement that they would introduce legislation outlining new incentive programs for the country’s burgeoning shale industry. Pointing to projects in the US and Poland, Algeria have outlined a plan to increase revenue and expand domestic production through tax incentives and a pledge on the part of the state-backed firm Sonatrach to invest up to $80 billion over five years, with 60 percent going towards shale exploration and production, according to a Bloomberg report.

Shared Concerns

“Oil-importing, especially Arab Spring, countries will need to set out on their own paths toward economic modernization and transformation,” read the report. “But they will also need to rely on financial assistance and technical and policy advice from the international community to support homegrown reform agendas. “

Ensuring such outside funding has emerged as the most glaring challenge for both importing and exporting countries due to lingering instability and its impact on

foreign investment and other financial support coming from international institutions. Without political stability across a region heavy with new governments, investors and financing agencies remain cautious, slowing the process of infrastructure recovery in Libya. According to a regional energy analyst at CIDOB, a Barcelona-based foreign policy think tank, the lingering uncertainty about North Africa has forced a “wait and see” approach on the part of European and US investors, as well as funding institutions.

In Egypt, a lack of political consensus has hindered the new government’s ability to ensure a $3.2 billion development loan from the IMF and threatened much largr potential agreements from Gulf state funds. For their part, the IMF cited a lack of a clear direction as reason for pause. This political instability has been most evident in Libya as interest from much needed foreign oil and gas partners is being tested by an interim government seen as dragging its feet on providing opportunities and access to Africa’s second largest proven reserves.

Unfortunately, that stability is not restricted to whether political coalitions can organize in time or ensure safe and effective elections. Across the region, questions about violence and safety have plagued governments, making the prospect of attracting needed foreign investment all the more difficult. Most recently, tension between Sudan and the newly autonomous Southern Sudan boiled over into violence as a result of conflicting claims about oil reserves. The potential for the Sudanese conflict to spread has demanded the diplomatic attention of regional neighbors, including the Egyptian government who sent representatives to help ease tensions.

To the west, the potential threat of the Northern Mali separatist movement spilling over into the Southern Sahara areas of Libya and Algeria have kept officials and investors on edge in those countries.

Seeking Solutions

In the case of Morocco, leaders in Rabat were able to boast one of the North Africa’s only steady increase in per capita income, but pitfalls remain, especially in light of the country’s weak domestic potential and heavy dependence on foreign resources. During a recent conversation with Forbes, Fouad Douiri, Morocco’s newly appointed Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment said the country will address development and energy issues by targeting renewable projects in favor of shale, offshore or traditional drilling operations. Outlining plans to install more than 2000 MW of solar, wind and hydro power, Douiri said that the government intends to « reduce Morocco’s annual imports of fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil equivalent and to prevent the emissions of 9 million tons of carbon dioxide.”

While confident that they will be able to continue funding such efforts, the Moroccan government face significant fiscal shortfalls thanks to an increase in subsidies and public work jobs offered to calm growing political opposition last year.

Originally Distributed by Newsbase. All Rights Reserved.

Image: Energyboom.com

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