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L’énergie dans le développement de la Nouvelle-Calédonie

Yves Le Bars
Elsa Faugère
Philippe Menanteau
et al.

New Caledonia’s international integration

The Geopolitics of Energy1

Texte intégral


  • 1 The information in this chapter comes from international organisations (International Energy Agenc (...)

1Overall statistics on energy show that the increased consumption is driven by the greater Asia-Pacific region. New Caledonia is part of this greater region which includes countries bordering the western Pacific, the Indochinese Peninsula, India, Pakistan and Oceania. However, it does not include the eastern Pacific States, although they are its main trading partners, or Russia, whose Pacific coast hosts numerous energy development programmes.

2Since the late 1980s, energy consumption within this greater region has increased by 250 %, an increase only surpassed by that of the Middle East, whose total volume is smaller. In other words, the greater Asia-Pacific region represents two thirds of the world’s increase in energy consumption which has risen from 7,600 Mtoe to 11,000 Mtoe within twenty years (BP). Its oil consumption outstripped that of Europe in 1992 and that of North America in 2006. Its total primary energy consumption outstripped that of North America in the early 2000s.

3This increase is mainly due to the tripling of China’s consumption (1,800 Mtoe in 2007) with other countries in the region also showing sharp increases, especially Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

4Requirements are first met by coal which represents almost 50 % of primary energy consumption, but it is natural gas which is increasing fastest although it only represented 10 % of consumption in 2007. At this broad level, non-conventional renewable energies are statistically insignificant.

5The nature of this region is varied, both in terms of the size of the Countries and their energy priorities. However, they are all concerned about the security of their supplies: in addition to Japan and South Korea’s pursuit of energy-intensive development despite lacking any significant national resources, the demands of emerging countries pose the problem of access to resources. This results in competition, aggressive strategies or the pursuit of bilateral or multilateral agreements and shared solutions.

Figure 11. Primary energy consumption trends by region 1987-2007 (Mtoe)
Source: BP Statistical Yearbook.

6Moreover, in the past the world oil market was based on complementarities between OPEC oil-producing countries and consumer countries grouped together in the OECD but the greater Asia-Pacific region is far less clear-cut. Australia belongs to the OECD but is the main energy exporter for the whole region; regional alliances like ASEAN are limited and APEC also includes the United States and some Latin American countries.

7New Caledonia is very much in line with these regional trends both in terms of the sharp rise in its energy requirements resulting from increased economic activity and from domestic demand. Like the other countries in the region, it has chosen coal to meet these requirements. In this sense, its energy model is more like the Asia-Pacific emerging economies model than the European or small islands model.

Figure 12. Asia-Pacific region primary energy sources (Mtoe)
Source: BP Statistical Review.

The organisation of regional energy exchanges

Petroleum and petroleum products: under-exploited potential in New Caledonia

8Despite all the effort devoted to exploration and production, the greater Asia-Pacific region has relatively less oil than the main areas of production already established. In 2007 as in 1997, this greater region represented just under 4 % of world reserves and just under 10 % of production. In the past ten years, production has fallen in Australia and Indonesia and significantly risen in Thailand and Vietnam whose known reserves have also increased considerably. Resources may also be found off the coast of New Caledonia in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (see inset).

9Increased oil demand in Asia-Pacific (East of Suez) faced with relatively scarce resources means that this region is competing with European and North American consumers (West of Suez) to access oil from the Middle East. This justifies the active search for new Asia-Pacific petroleum resources undertaken by all the main international companies. Resources have been discovered offshore and this has led to a variety of tensions between countries: this is particularly the case with China’s EEZ boundary. For New Caledonia, the most promising areas are located to the west of Grande Terre, close to the boundary with Australia’s EEZ.

What do we know about the geology of the zone, in terms of energy resources?
New Caledonia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is located between two major petroleum-producing provinces which are being exploited, Papua New Guinea to the north and New Zealand to the south. These three regions have a common geological heritage recognised for its petroleum potential. New Caledonia and the offshore sedimentary basin of its EEZ are under-explored, but the geodynamic context behind New Caledonia’s main structural features generally favourable to the generation and entrapment of hydrocarbons. There are three types of sedimentary basins with petroleum potential:
The sedimentary basins of the west coast of Grande Terre are in a very favourable position for the accumulation of hydrocarbons, because it is in this area that preserved geological structures likely to form traps are usually found. The system studied shows that hydrocarbons have been generated (mainly gas) but we still need to identify good reservoirs and traps where gas accumulates which are commercially viable. Everybody agrees that we need to acquire new geological and geophysical data in order to properly assess these onshore basins and their extensions under the sea. Moreover, IFP recommends a detailed exploration of the western lagoon which it believes to be one of the most interesting petroleum exploration subjects. The region called the Grand Passage to the north of the island is of similar interest.
New Caledonia’s sedimentary basin: this deep offshore basin contains the thickest sedimentary deposits of the EEZ (up to 8 km) and has been subject to numerous geological and geophysical campaigns although exploratory drilling for petroleum has not been possible. These studies show that the northern part of the New Caledonia basin has bedrock made up of continental crust similar to the one on the west coast of New Caledonia where the existence of an active petroleum system has been proven. Given the size of the basin and the sediment thickness, the quantities of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons generated could be quite considerable. The main problem lies in the great depth of the water which makes exploration costs very high. The depth of this water decreases as one approaches Fairway Ridge, which is of equal interest.
The Fairway Basin and its surroundings: to the west of New Caledonia Basin, the Fairway Ridge, Fairway Basin and Lord Howe Rise also appear to offer favourable conditions for the generation and entrapment of hydrocarbons. Not only did the Faust and ZoNéCo 5 geophysics campaigns confirm that the structural style and sediment thickness of the Fairway Basin and its surroundings were of interest, it also revealed the presence of a significant seismic reflector interpreted as indicating the base of a gas hydrate layer extending 80,000 sq. km. However, the presence of these gas hydrates needs to be proven by exploratory drilling.
We need to acquire new geological and geophysical data to allow us to finish assessing the sediment basins onshore and their extensions out to sea. We still need to carry out an inventory of geological structures that could trap hydrocarbons on land or under shallow water (lagoons in the west and north). As for the deep offshore basin, an opinion can only be given after exploratory drilling has been carried out. The first explorations will probably target the area around the Fairway Basin. These areas where bathymetry is lowest seem to present geological structures likely to trap hydrocarbons that have migrated from the depths of the Fairway Basin. With barrel prices soaring in 2008, the international petroleum industry has shown renewed interest in these highpotential prospects, despite high exploration costs.
It will only be possible to assess the petroleum potential of New Caledonia’s deep offshore basins within a regional framework and exploratory activities will probably be carried out in collaboration with neighbouring countries. Lord Howe Rise which is in both New Caledonia and Australia’s EEZs was recently presented as a petroleum prospect but its exploration will depend above all upon oil price trends.

Figure 13. The morphostructural units of New Caledonia’s EEZ according to Lafoy et al., 1996
Grande Terre is surrounded by large sedimentary basins recognised for their petroleum potential but which remain under-explored.

10The organisation of petroleum product exchanges is more complex than that of oil markets because there are a greater number of products to meet different specifications. Therefore, New Caledonia, which does not have a refinery, is dependant upon these availabilities even if oil is discovered in its EEZ. Moreover, up until now its main requirement was fuel oil for the Prony power plant but this should fall when coal-fired power plants are commissioned and should change to lighter products for ground, road and maritime transport.

11Refining capacity is concentrated in major consumer countries, particularly China and Japan. Australian refineries have stopped their deliveries to New Caledonia because they sell all their products on the Australian market, obliging New Caledonian importers to get their supplies in Singapore.

12One of the key questions concerning the supply of fuel is related to specifications. In 2006, Australia modified its standards in order to move towards greater environmental stringency. Despite these requirements and the fact that the refining capacities are used, Australia intends to be able to import the fuel it needs from the main refineries in the region, particularly from Singapore, Taiwan, India and South Korea. Improvements to Asian refineries already allow them to comply with the new Australian standard and should allow them to comply with European standards in the future.

13According to a report intended for the Australian Ministry for Energy Resources and Tourism, new refining capacities are being built. In Jamnagar in India, Reliance Petroleum has commissioned a refinery with a capacity of 600,000 BPD which doubles existing capacity of this port in the state of Gujarat. This refining complex can refine heavy oil and produce high quality fuels for export. In Vietnam, the Dung Qhat refinery should start operating in 2008 and the construction of two other refineries should follow on. Moreover, there are plans to expand or construct refineries in Taiwan and Persian Gulf countries which should have no problem supplying Asian markets. Conversely, Australia has reduced its refining capacity and New Zealand’s capacity is limited although demand has increased. Therefore, the countries of Oceania will have to import more and more petroleum products from Asian refineries.

14The question of sea lane security (particularly in the Malacca Strait) is often raised. A very narrow passageway could become blocked due to acts of war or terrorism or quite simply due to a technical problem, like the grounding of an oil tanker, for example.

15This risk does not seem to worry Australian importers which rely on alternative shipping routes if a problem arises. Some passages (Hormuz) cannot be avoided: they represent a worldwide challenge which goes far beyond New Caledonia. However, the use of alternative shipping lanes is not easy and even if they could be used to serve Oceania, there would still be the problem supplying the Singapore refineries because regional refining capacity would not be able to meet the demand without them.

16In other words, temporary tensions on shipping lanes or technical problems in Asian refineries may affect supplies to New Caledonia whose fuel reserves are limited. Indeed, statutory provisions state that there should be strategic stocks equal to 20 % of consumption (73 days) but these stocks do not exceed 60 days due to insufficient storage capacity.

Natural gas: New Caledonia is not involved in this market

17Over the last twenty years, natural gas has asserted itself worldwide as a relatively plentiful fuel which produces less pollution than liquid hydrocarbons. Major consumers have given priority to natural gas and have invested heavily in the construction of re-gasification terminals and thus invested in this energy which is cleaner than hydrocarbons (half as much CO2 for the same energy content).

18Natural gas reserves are very unevenly distributed in the world and are relatively small in the region. The main reserves are in Indonesia with just under 100,000 Gsqf, placing this country in thirteenth position worldwide. However, the IEA forecasts a large increase in production, particularly in Australia which should remain a natural gas exporter for at least one decade. Asia-Pacific’s proportion is higher than that of its oil reserves and its growth is more rapid, particularly in India, Burma, Pakistan, Thailand and Australia.

19The increased proportion of natural gas consumed in Asia Pacific is a consequence of the complete reorganisation of exchanges following the development of terminals to receive and dispatch Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). For the moment, this technology is not suited to New Caledonia whose market is too small for existing solutions.

20Japan built its first gas receiving terminals in the early 1970s and in 2007 it had about thirty receiving terminals. It was followed by South Korea which acquired facilities in the 1980s. The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan followed in the 2000s. Finally, projects for gas receiving terminals are underway in Thailand and Singapore.

21Most trading of natural gas is carried out between Asia Pacific countries. South Korea buys just under half of its natural gas from regional suppliers but for other importers this proportion is much higher. Conversely, producers in the region sell exclusively to these large regional consumers.

22Current projects concern the development of re-gasification terminals in all countries in the region that are already exporters, with very intense development in Australia, as well as the creation of new terminals in Peru and in Sakhalin (Russia) to supply the Pacific basin. Moreover, there are major projects for international gas pipelines, in particular the creation of a network of gas pipelines between South Asian States and the extension of networks between Russia and China. Curbed by the lack of confidence between partners, these major projects are only emerging slowly. However, they remain central themes which structure inter-State relations and formal bodies for integration. According to IEA forecasts, China, which receives its natural gas from Australia, should complete this source in the coming decades by imports from Russia and Central Asia.

23Even if New Caledonia is not involved in this market at the moment (and will probably not be involved for a long time), the developing production and marketing of natural gas affects its own situation in several ways. First of all, the increasing proportion of natural gas in the energy balance of other countries in the region is easing pressure on liquid hydrocarbons and coal. Secondly, the use of natural gas will slow down the increase in CO2 emissions of the other countries in the region, or it will reduce them if natural gas replaces other fuels, highlighting the unfavourable path taken by New Caledonia. Finally, trading of natural gas, which justifies heavy investments in LNG terminals and pipelines, consolidates special relations between partners and de facto solidarity between countries in the region, without New Caledonia taking part.

Coal: New Caledonia takes advantage of regional dynamism

24It is coal which is supporting the growth of energy consumption in Asia Pacific. Considered as the “energy of the nineteenth century”, coal is becoming the energy of the twenty-first century. Coal mining was neglected by States because they thought that coal was more likely to produce social and environmental problems than a solution to their energy security. Mining is mainly done by private companies which have considerably modernised the activity. Coal is a very diverse product and can be used in industry (steel industry coke) or for thermal purposes (steam coal). This bulky material requires specific logistics installations which sometimes turn into bottlenecks. Coal has received a lot of bad publicity in terms of the environment. This reputation, mainly based on its history, is no longer entirely justified because new technologies can reduce emissions of ashes and dust (but not yet of CO2).

25Indonesia and Australia are the main coal suppliers on regional markets and export mainly to Japan and South Korea. Indonesia is capable of overtaking Australia in exports because its domestic demand is inferior. China also exports thermal coals to regional markets but volumes are falling: they dropped from 73Mt in 2003 to 45Mt in 2007 and should continue to decrease. These exports, which come mainly from the northern provinces, are offset by imports by the southern provinces from neighbouring countries (Vietnam, Indonesia). Moreover, increased demand for coal in China could lead the State of China to limit its coal exports. The commissioning of power plants under construction in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong should lead to a sustained growth of demand for coal. Consequence: this could result in temporary strains on the coal market and in price fluctuations but, in the medium-term, producers have sufficient reserves to meet the increased demand.

26The extent of demand from Japan and, secondarily, South Korea is an essential determining factor of the region’s total demand which directly impacts prices. However, the reference price system, based on long-term contracts between Australian exporters and Japanese electricity boards has gradually been abandoned in favour of a market price purchasing system based on the FOB price of a load in Newcastle. Improvements to Japanese and Korean thermal power plants allow a greater variety of coal to be used than in the past and this opens markets to producers. Even when the planned power plants are commissioned, New Caledonia will remain a small importer of coal, compared to the main Pacific markets.

27According to forecasts by the Energy Information Administration (2009), Australia should become the world’s leading exporter of steam coal and steel industry coke, in front of Indonesia, followed by South Africa, Colombia and Venezuela. New port terminals must be constructed and facilities in Newcastle must be extended to ensure the growth of these exports which are currently restricted due to the overloading of shipping infrastructures. Programmes are underway to increase Newcastle’s loading capacity by increasing the existing terminal’s capacity and by creating a new terminal which will increase the port’s capacity from approximately 110Mt per year to 140 and then 170Mt per year.

28New Caledonia’s situation is no different from the situation of the greater region to which it belongs. Moreover, it has adopted the same fuel specifications as Australia. Increased energy requirements, sustained by industrial activity and residential demand, and recourse to coal are in line with the general trend. Its small size prevents it from taking advantage of the possibilities offered by LNG and nuclear energy, makes it dependent upon outside refining capacities and prevents Caledonian buyers from influencing prices. This situation is not necessarily unfavourable in view of the planned growth in refining capacities, the introduction of stricter standards for fuels and the increased exporting capacities of coal producers. It calls for attentive monitoring of regional trends, notably to become aligned with fuel specifications corresponding to the best compromise between ease of acquisition and minimization of pollution, and to take advantage of regional dynamism to organise energy-related activities.


Australia: a very dynamic energy policy

29With the development of coal, natural gas and also uranium, Australia is consolidating its position as an energy exporter on regional markets. There is a strong awareness that if export markets for Australian coal are to be maintained, technological solutions must be found to produce “clean coal”.

30Australia consumes a great deal of energy itself because it combines activities that demand high levels of energy (particularly mines), long transport distances, low-density forms of urbanisation associated with the use of private vehicles and a certain taste for petrol guzzling vehicles. As it has very few hydraulic resources to produce energy and it refuses to develop a nuclear sector, thermal energy is mainly used to produce electricity in coalfired power plants.

31One of the most animated debates on energy in Australia concerned the ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol which the country only subscribed to in 2007, after the Labour Party came to power and Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister. This party broadly adopted the proposals of the economist R. Garnaut who wrote a report on GHG reduction for a State which has high GHG emissions and which would be particularly affected by climate change (especially the droughts thought to be responsible for the great summer fires of 2008-2009).

32However, industry leaders are extremely opposed to the introduction of legally binding measures to reduce GHG emissions. Given the economic importance of energy-intensive activities, these arguments cannot be ignored. The present government proposes a very gradual reduction of GHG emissions and gives high-priority to research on CO2 capture and storage.

33Australia’s energy policy is divided between the States and the Commonwealth government. Although it has a market-oriented economy based on free enterprise, these different levels of government give a great deal of consideration to stakeholders’ interests when overseeing the energy sector. In 2009, the department of energy started writing a blue book on energy which should serve as a basis for developing the energy policy in the coming years; moreover, specific studies outline the vulnerability of liquid fuel supplies.

34Australia is actively developing its energy resources: oil and natural gas research and exploration, campaigns to provide investors with data on the country’s geological potential, research programmes on geothermics, a programme to promote renewable energies (the production of wind power increased from 0.6 PJ in 2001-2002 to 22.5 PJ in 2006-2007 for wind energy facilities of 1250 MW), etc. Public action also supports public-private research programmes aimed at developing new technologies.

35High-level research is being carried out at CSIRO, the project-based public research centre in Newcastle and at university laboratories in association with private firms. However, most of the research is being carried out by private companies whose R&D costs have very much increased since the beginning of the decade.

36Technologies that are being given priority are concentrated solar power (Australia’s solar potential is enormous), CO2 capture and storage (a major challenge for the coal industry) and smart grids.

New Zealand: renewable energies represent one third of the total energy

37New Zealand’s energy supply is based on domestic resources (coal, natural gas, oil, hydroelectricity) which, nevertheless, are not plentiful enough to save the country from importing oil and more and more petroleum products. As from 1997 and the depletion of the Maui deposits, production of oil and natural gas declined, but in 2004 it took off again with the Pohokura, Waihapa, Piakau and Stadford deposits.

38Renewable energies play a very important role because they represent approximately one third of total energy and two thirds of electricity. This exceptional situation is partly due to the fact that the country lends itself to wind, geothermic and hydroelectric installations. There is no specific aid for renewable energies apart from the carbon credits granted to projects as part of the country’s policy to reduce GHG emissions. Domestic uses (solar domestic hot water systems) have been developed intensively. However, in the absence of financial incentives, increased energy consumption is mainly based on fossil resources, to such an extent that the proportion of renewable energies is tending to decrease.

39In 2002, New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed itself to programmes to manage its GHG emissions. It found it rather difficult to implement the reduction measures because almost half of the GHG emissions are produced by agriculture. To avoid harming the competitiveness of its industries, New Zealand abandoned the idea of introducing a carbon tax but now it is planning to set up an emissions trading system.

40In 2007, the country adopted an energy strategy taking it up to 2050. This calls for the consolidation of renewable energies whose relative competitiveness would be higher than that of fossil energies due to the cost of GHG emissions. In addition to existing energies, the strategy emphasises the potential of biomass and bio-fuels for transport requirements.


Oil and natural gas players: private firms and national companies

41For a long time, the oil market was dominated by large integrated companies from Europe and North America (“the Seven Sisters”) but they now have to compete with large companies from producing countries, mediumsized companies and companies from consuming countries which are following their strategy to secure energy resources.

42This competition is particularly fierce in Asia-Pacific where there is both rapid growth in energy requirements and new exploration and production areas. One finds the world’s large conglomerates, as elsewhere, but also national companies from producing and consuming countries, as well as private firms from the region which are developing their activities there. Some mining groups, like BHP Billiton, are also involved in the production of oil and natural gas in Australia.

Coal and mining players

43The coal market is organised very differently from the oil and natural gas market. During the second half of the twentieth century, coal was no longer a worldwide strategic resource as in the past. It only remained so in some States (East Germany, the United States, Russia and China) which used it to meet domestic requirements. Elsewhere, public policy tended to encourage the closure of mines rather than their continued activity. Conversely, producers sought outlets for coal by reducing their costs.

44This trend has redrawn the world coal map by favouring large deposits that can be mined at lower cost. The major coal producing firms are not as geographically dispersed as oil and natural gas producers. Among the main world producers, there are national groups like Coal India (India) and Shenhua (China) which carry out all their production in one single country, mainly for their domestic requirements. Peabody, the world coal giant, is not very diversified: it extracts about 200Mt in the United States and only 10Mt in Australia but it is active on international markets and in trading.

45In Australia, three types of firms are involved in coal production: specialised Australian coal groups which only mine deposits in Australia (Anglo Coal), a very diversified large Australian conglomerate (Westfarmer), coal specialists and the three large diversified mining groups BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Rio Tinto.

46Changes in coal industry players are common: the major oil companies which had mining assets (BP, Shell) have sold them to mining firms. This withdrawal that occurred in the 1990s was due to the fall in profitability of coal mines and it opened the door to world mining groups which have carried out numerous mergers and acquisitions in the past years.

47Coal-consuming Japanese companies (Mitsui, Mitsubishi) have shares in the capital of some groups and mines and this allows them to reinforce the security of their supplies. Another mining giant, the Vale group, does not yet operate coal mines but it has opened a trading unit in Australia. Currently (2009), it is developing two coal mines, one in Mozambique and the other in association with the Australian firm Aquila in Queensland, which should start production in 2011.

48Indonesian production is organised differently. Many local firms are present and they rely on the commercial networks of Glencore-Xstrata and BHP Billiton. This has enabled them to make an aggressive entry into Asia-Pacific markets.

49Unlike oil markets which were mainly organised by producers controlling a strategic resource, coal markets give suppliers the chance to compete with each in their search for outlets – which puts buyers in a good position. Despite this and the development of spot markets, different buyers use different strategies to gain control of some of the resources: acquiring shares in production activities, long-term supply contracts, grouping themselves into large diversified groups (which are leaders or associates in the nickel plants planned in New Caledonia).

50New Caledonia cannot take part in the organisation of regional-scale energy markets directly but it could take part indirectly by acquiring shares in mining and energy companies (SLN, Koniambo, Enercal). It could also turn to New Zealand and particularly Australia to find situations that are similar to its own which gave rise to interesting solutions or to find research from which it could benefit.

Table 7 – Coal producers in Australia in 2008 in Mt

Table 7 – Coal producers in Australia in 2008 in Mt

Data compiled by S. Velut based on reports by Australian companies and the government.


1 The information in this chapter comes from international organisations (International Energy Agency, APEC, World Energy Council), national organisations (Energy Information Administration, ABARE, IFP, national ministries), companies (BP, Total) and consultants (Oil and Gas Journal, Petroleum Economist).

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 11. Primary energy consumption trends by region 1987-2007 (Mtoe)Source: BP Statistical Yearbook.
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Légende Figure 12. Asia-Pacific region primary energy sources (Mtoe)Source: BP Statistical Review.
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Légende Figure 13. The morphostructural units of New Caledonia’s EEZ according to Lafoy et al., 1996Grande Terre is surrounded by large sedimentary basins recognised for their petroleum potential but which remain under-explored.
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Titre Table 7 – Coal producers in Australia in 2008 in Mt
Légende Data compiled by S. Velut based on reports by Australian companies and the government.
Fichier image/jpeg, 82k

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