HAVANA – A deepwater oil rig hired by Spain’s Repsol-YPF for use in Cuba’s Gulf waters has arrived off the island’s coast and will be put into operation shortly.
The Scarabeo-9 platform was about 10 miles off northern Cuba Thursday and could already be seen from the coast.
The rig, built in China and Singapore and initially due to arrive in the summer of 2011, is heading west to an area off the coast of the city of Mariel, an industry official told Efe, adding that exploratory drilling is expected to begin soon.
The platform will be used to determine the crude potential of Cuba’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which is located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and estimated to hold up to 9 billion barrels of petroleum in more than a score of commercially significant prospects.
The EEZ covers some 112,000 sq. kilometers (43,240 sq. miles) and is divided into 59 blocks of 2,000 sq. kilometers (772 sq. miles) each, 22 of which have been awarded to foreign companies such as Spain’s Repsol, Venezuela’s PDVSA and PetroVietnam.
Eight onshore blocks also have been awarded to Cuban state oil firm Cupet and five others to foreign companies, according to official figures.
Cuba’s oil and gas output has stabilized over the past five years at a level of 4 million tons of oil equivalent, according to the Basic Industry Ministry.
Last year, several U.S. House Democratic and Republican leaders urged Repsol, which also has leases to drill in U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, to drop plans to explore for oil in Cuban waters and warned the company of possible legal action in the United States.
In a letter sent to Repsol Chairman and CEO Antonio Brufau, 34 House lawmakers said any exploratory drilling the oil company conducts in Cuban waters “will provide direct financial benefit to the Castro dictatorship.”
U.S. officials also have expressed concerns about environmental risks considering the drilling site’s proximity to U.S. soil, just 95 miles from the Florida Keys, although Repsol has pledged to adhere to U.S. regulations and the highest industry standards in its drilling in Cuban territorial waters.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the Scarabeo-9 last week and found it to be in compliance with U.S. and international standards governing deepwater drilling.
BSEE director Michael Bromwich told the House and Senate last year that U.S. authorities had witnessed a spill response exercise carried out at Repsol’s office in Trinidad and that during that simulation Repsol technicians demonstrated their ability to respond successfully to a hypothetical spill.
Concerns about Cuba’s plans to tap its offshore oil reserves have grown in the wake of the devastating 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuba is hoping crude discoveries will provide a boost to the communist-ruled island’s ailing economy and make it less dependent on imported oil from close ally Venezuela. EFE