Protests Follow Oil Giant Total S.A.

By Llewellyn Hinkes Jones

Haiti has endured, not one, but two sets of violent protests over the last year.

First was a set of protests in July over a potential increase to the country’s gas prices, and more recently over accusations of corruption related to the Petrocaribe oil deal.

Similarly, France has been engulfed in ongoing riots over a potential gas tax that recently ended when President Macron rescinded the idea in response to the upheaval.

One common bond between the protests is the major oil producer Total S.A., who is a major supplier to both countries and whose oil sales and recent deals could be directly affected by gas taxes.

Haiti Protests Follow Gas Subsidy Dispute, Corruption Allegations

The July protests in Haiti began after an announced gas price increase. The increase was a consequence of an agreement between Haiti and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that required Haiti to eliminate its subsidies for gas and gas station retailers in February of that year.

Haiti has struggled to eliminate gas subsidies that only increased since the 2010 earthquake. Fuel subsidies for the Caribbean nation have, at times, dwarfed national spending on health care.

Three months after the IMF agreement to remove subsidies, Total announced that it would sell all of its retail gas business in Haiti, including 92 service stations to the Bandari Corporation, a local consortium of investors.

But it wasn’t until July that the government formally announced that gas prices would increase as a result of declining subsidies and protests engulfed the country.

Another set of protests erupted in November over the Petrocaribe scandal, despite the scandal being broken a year before in 2017.

As part of the Petrocaribe deal, Haiti receives oil from Venezuela without having to pay the full amount up front. It can then invest in infrastructure and other necessities before paying Venezuela the complete amount of the imported fuel.

But a 2017 independent audit of the program showed billions missing and potentially embezzled, with hundreds of millions still owed to Venezuela.

French Protests Follow Gas Tax Proposal

On the other side of the Atlantic, ongoing protests over a potential gas tax in France would also have a substantial effect on the oil giant.

France accounted for 29 percent of Total’s total petroleum sales in 2017 and increased gasoline prices would certainly lead to a decline in consumption and therefore revenues.

Protestors Mute on Nuclear Decommissioning

But at the same time, President Macron’s announcement to decommission 14 nuclear plants—a continuation of a pledge by previous President Holland to move to a green economy—lead to little outrage from protestors, because potentially higher energy costs of loss of jobs.

Nuclear power provides around 72 percent of France’s electrical needs, and French transmission provider, RTE, estimated that the country may need to build 20 natural gas-powered thermal plants to account for the loss of nuclear power.

Total currently has 6 percent of the global natural gas market and is predicted to grow to 10 percent after acquiring Engie LNG.

Published: December 4, 2018