Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people in Haiti this month may have left clues to petroleum reservoirs that could aid economic recovery in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, a geologist said.
The Jan. 12 earthquake was on a fault line that passes near potential gas reserves, said Stephen Pierce, a geologist who worked in the region for 30 years for companies including the former Mobil Corp. The quake may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep toward the surface, he said yesterday in a telephone interview.
"A geologist, callous as it may seem, tracing that fault zone from Port-au-Prince to the border looking for gas and oil seeps, may find a structure that hasn't been drilled," said Pierce, exploration manager at Zion Oil & Gas Inc., a Dallas- based company that's drilling in Israel. "A discovery could significantly improve the country's economy and stimulate further exploration."
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive met yesterday in Montreal with diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to discuss redevelopment initiatives. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said wind power may play a role in rebuilding the Caribbean nation, where forests have been denuded for lack of fuel, the Canadian Press reported.
"Haiti, from the standpoint of oil and gas exploration, is a lot less developed than the Dominican Republic," Pierce said. "One could do a lot more work there."
Abraham Lincoln's Consul
The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. It may have 3 million barrels of oil in a shallow offshore formation that's probably also shared by Haiti, Pierce said.
"One of the main reasons for the dearth of information on reserves in Haiti is that the Dominican Republic has numerous surface-hydrocarbon seeps while Haiti had very, very few," he said.
Abraham Lincoln's consul to the Dominican Republic reported oil seeps there in 1862. Neither nation produces oil or gas. As much as 1 trillion cubic feet of gas may be trapped in a border formation near the earthquake fault, Pierce said.
Pierce hasn't worked in Hispaniola since joining Zion in February 2005. He said he's unaware of any petroleum geologists conducting fieldwork in Haiti. There has been exploration of Ocoa Bay, the largest potential oil deposit in the Dominican Republic, he said.
600,000 Without Shelter
"All basins cross the border," said Paul Mann, co-author of a 1991 paper in the Journal of Petroleum Geology on Hispaniola's petroleum potential. The paper concluded that "existing seismic data indentify undrilled prospects."
More than 600,000 people are without shelter in the Port- au-Prince area, the United Nations said Jan. 22. The 7.0- magnitude quake destroyed about one-third of the buildings in Port-au-Prince. It also knocked out the capital's seaport and water and sewage systems.
"Relief and recovery for the survivors is the priority now," Mark Fried, a spokesman for British charity Oxfam, said in a statement. "Hundreds of thousands who lost everything but their lives" need water, shelter and toilets to stop the spread of disease, he said.
Haiti will need "massive support" for a "colossal" reconstruction from the earthquake, Bellerive said at the meeting yesterday in Montreal.
The Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and their offshore waters, probably hold at least 142 million barrels of oil and 159 billion cubic feet of gas, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Undiscovered amounts may be as high as 941 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the report.
Among nations in the northern Caribbean, Cuba and Jamaica have awarded offshore leases for oil and gas development. Trinidad and Tobago, South American islands off the coast of Venezuela, account for most Caribbean oil production, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Last Updated: January 26, 2010 09:15 EST