The flagship hydrocarbon project, the British Gas Miskar scheme, suffered a serious setback when the Hannibal gas processing plant had to be shut down soon after its start-up in mid-1995 due to technical problems. It took until June of this year to carry out the necessary modifications and start delivering the contracted 4.5 million cubic metres a day of gas to the local power company. The US’ Bechtel, which designed the plant, helped British Gas carry out the repairs, including redesigning the control system.

On the oil side, it has also been a quiet year. In 1995, oil production declined slightly to 4.3 tonnes a year, and state energy company Entreprise Tunisienne des Activites Petrolieres (ETAP) forecasts a further drop this year. As there have been no significant discoveries recently, the trend is set to continue. However, new investment will prolong the life of existing fields. At the offshore Ashtart field, local operating company Serept put a new production platform into service at the beginning of the year. The drilling of eight additional wells by the end of 1997 will extend the life of the field for at least another 10 years. The foreign partner in the concession is France’s Elf Aquitaine.

The most recent new exploration agreement was signed in April with Agip of Italy for a 1,500-square-kilometre area in the Jenein block in the south. Agip has 100 per cent of the concession. Germany’s Preussag Energie renewed its exploration licence for the Djebel Oust concession until March 1997 and will carry out further drilling. It became the sole licence holder when the local subsidiary of the US’ Maxus Energy gave up its 40 per cent stake in September 1995.

The US’ United Texas Petroleum is continuing its exploration programme in the offshore Ramla block with a second well to be drilled in the last quarter of 1996. It is also planning a geological survey at the onshore Jeffara block in the autumn.

ETAP is making another attempt to attract investors into the border area with Libya. The two governments signed an agreement in February aimed at dispelling doubts about the legal status of a shared oil field.

British Gas wants to leave the oil sector to concentrate on gas in Tunisia and is offering its 49 per cent stake in the local TunisianBritish Services (TBS), which operates six producing oil fields.