Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman on Friday said that Government’s fast tracking of oil production in 2020 is “inextricably linked” with the 55-year-old border controversy with neighbouring Venezuela. He explained that this was neither coincidence nor happenstance.Delivering a presentation at the inaugural Guyana Oil and Gas Law Training Development Conference, the Natural Resources Minister said pushing for first oil in 2020 is a strategic move against the claims by the western neighbour over waters offshore Guyana that are being explored for oil by US oil giant ExxonMobil.The Nicholas Maduro Government had issued a decree late May 2015, claiming most of Guyana’s territorial waters, including the location where the Liza Field is — some 120 miles off Clonbrook-Mahaica. This claim was relayed weeks after Exxon had announced the discovery of oil in commercial quantities.Natural Resources Minister Raphael TrotmanThat decree was subsequently withdrawn after its delineation found itself extending into the Surinamese and Barbadian waters. But according to Minister Trotman, the intension of the neighbouring country was made clear, and so the Coalition Administration had to take actions that would cement its sovereignty over the territory.Against this backdrop, the Natural Resources Minister outlined, it was imperative that Government anchor a company to explore and ultimately produce oil, hence it opted only to “tweak” the 1999 Production Sharing Agreement and fast track oil production, instead of having re-negotiated better benefits, which may have driven away the company.A section of the gathering at the first Oil and Gas Law Conference being held at the Ramada Princess Hotel“Because of the withdrawing of the lines by Venezuela, it was important for Guyana to move production as quickly as possible so that we can assert when we got to Court that production was taking place within the territorial waters of Guyana. That would become an indisputable fact before a Court of Law,” said Minister Trotman.Trotman, a lawyer by profession, went on to argue that if no production is taking place, the location of the well would become a matter for dispute.“So getting to production was strategic, because it had to do with sovereignty,” he asserted.After years of mediation, the United Nations Secretary-General in January announced that the border controversy between the two neighbouring States would be sent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution, a decision which the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not accepted.In the meantime, ExxonMobil is continuing to meet success in its exploration, making its seventh discovery of “high quality” commercial oil offshore Guyana last month. According to the company, this will help bring Guyana’s production to more than 500,000 barrels per day.To this end, the Natural Resources Minister told the gathering of members from the local legal fraternity on Friday that preparations are already underway to commence oil production in 2020.The two-day conference, organised by the Judiciary and the Guyana Bar Association, saw the attendance of judges, magistrates and attorneys-at-law from around the country, who will be “Exploring the legal framework in oil and gas law”.This event has been dubbed as timely, given the emergence of a local oil and gas sector. In fact, President of the Bar Association, Kamal Ramkarran, noted that the hosting of the conference is the first step that the local legal profession is taking to better understand and learn the legal aspect of the emerging oil and gas industry.“It is our duty to know and understand as much as we can…on what the law is and what it should be. Enhancing our knowledge of how things have worked or not worked elsewhere can only lead to us ensuring that things do work to bring the greatest benefit possible of our natural resources to Guyana and its citizens,” Ramkarran remarked.Meanwhile, acting Chancellor, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, in brief remarks, posited that the legal profession must be proactive in embracing the oil and gas industry.“We, the Bar and Bench, have seen that vision; we’ve seen the need to sharpen our legal skills using the powerful weapon of education… There are various learning theories which provide that conceptual framework to describe how knowledge is absorbed, how it is processed, how it is retained, and how it obtained. But for us, in the legal fraternity, learning is continuous, and we know the benefits of continuing legal education,” she stated.Among the presenters from around the region during the two-day conference was Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law, UWI St Augustine Campus, Alicia Elias-Roberts. The Guyana-born legal luminary, who has pioneer legal education in oil and gas in the region, is leading the training, which she said is not only timely but relevant to what is currently obtaining in Guyana.“I’ll endeavour over the course of the two days to deliver training based upon my experience…to lay the foundation during this conference about lessons learnt from other hydrocarbon economies, so the agenda is truly aligned to many of the issues facing the energy sector in Guyana…“I cannot overemphasise the long-term implications that our discussions here will have on the future of the energy sector and the economy,” she noted.Elias-Roberts will be assisted during the conference by Senior State Counsel of the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries in Trinidad and Tobago, Indranie Rampaul-Cheddi.