Page 16 ■ Thursday, January 26, 2012
NATION & WORLD Cuba set to explore off-shore as rig arrives
By PETER ORSI Associated Press
rived Jan. 19 in the warm Gulf waters north of Havana, where it will sink an exploratory well deep into the seabed, launching Cuba’s dreams of striking it rich with offshore oil. The Scarabeo-9 platform was visible
from Havana’s sea wall far off on the hazy horizon as it chugged westward toward its fi nal drill site about 30 miles from the capital, and 60 miles south of Key West.
HAVANA — A huge drilling rig ar-
parts, no small feat considering Ameri- ca’s dominance in the industry. While comparable platforms sat idle
in the Gulf of Mexico, the Scarabeo-9 spent months navigating through three oceans and around the Cape of Good Hope to arrive in the Caribbean at tre- mendous expense. Even after the rig is in place, the em-
bargo continues to affect just about ev- ery aspect. The Scarabeo-9’s blowout preventer,
which is leasing the rig for about a half- million dollars a day, said it expects to begin drilling within days to fi nd out whether the reserves are as rich as pre- dicted. “The geologists have done their work.
If they’ve done it well, then we’ll have a good chance of success,” Repsol spokes- man Kristian Rix said by phone from Madrid. “It’s been a long process, but now we’re at the point where we discover whether our geologists have got it right. It’s a happy day.” It’s been a long, strange journey for
the Scarabeo-9, Repsol and Cuba, a pro- cess shadowed at every step by warnings of a possible environmental debacle and decades of bad blood between Cuba and the United States. The U.S. trade embargo essentially
Spanish oil company Repsol RPF,
mental disaster shows the U.S. needs to lift the embargo and work with the Cubans in the interest of safety; oth- ers say the fact that the trade ban failed to pre- vent Cuba from drill- ing shows it needs to be made even tougher. Some of the harsh-
a key piece of machinery that failed in the 2010 Macondo-Deepwater Horizon disaster, is state of the art. But its U.S. manufacturer is not licensed to work with Cuba so replacement parts must come through secondary sources. It’s also more complicated to do
things like the maintenance necessary to keep things running smoothly and de- crease the chances of something going wrong. If it does, Cuba would be hard-
pressed to respond to a major spill on its own, and getting help isn’t as simple as making a phone call to Washington. The embargo would require licenses to be is- sued for all manner of equipment and services for an emergency response. U.S. inspectors examined the rig the
bars U.S. companies from doing oil busi- ness with Cuba and threatens sanctions against foreign companies if they don’t follow its restrictions, making it far more complicated to line up equipment and resources for the project. To avoid sanctions, Repsol chose the Scarabeo-9, a 380-foot-long,
pelled, semisubmersible behemoth built in China and Singapore and capable of housing 200 workers. The rig qualifi es for the Cuba project because it was built with less than 10 percent U.S.-made
previous week in Trinidad and gave it a clean bill of health, though notably said that did not constitute any certifi ca- tion. And American representatives at a regional oil meeting last month in the Bahamas were left impressed by their Cuban counterparts’ openness and will- ingness to share information. But the countries’ proximity has in-
est criticism has come from Cuban-Ameri- can members of Con- gress such as House Foreign Affairs Com- mittee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who recently accused the Obama adminis- tration of dropping the ball on Cuban drilling. “Oil exploration 90
miles off the Florida coast by this corrupt, unaccountable dicta- torship could result in horrifi c environ- mental and economic damage to our Gulf Coast communities, in addition to enriching the Castro tyranny,” Ros-Lehtinen said. The exact size of
creased fears of a disastrous spill with the potential to foul not only Cuba’s reefs and gleaming, white-sand beaches, but also, swept up by the Gulf Stream, the coast of Florida and the Atlantic Sea- board up to North Carolina. Curiously, those fears have been cited
by people on both sides of the embargo issue: Some say the prospect of environ-
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An oil rig fl oats in the distance as fi shermen work in Havana Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 19.
Cuba’s offshore re- serves, estimated at 5 billion to 9 billion barrels, is still unknown. And produc- tion would not come online for years, so any windfall is still on the horizon. But island offi cials are hopeful of a big strike that could inject much-needed cash into their struggling economy, and they’re not asking anyone for permission. “Cuba is going through its own
Senate who met with Cuban offi cials in Havana last week on oil and other mat- ters. “This discovery, or potential discov-
change regardless of American foreign policy,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S.
ery, of signifi cant amounts of oil could dramatically change the economy of Cuba, and change the relationship with the United States in small ways and large,” Durbin said while visiting Haiti on Jan. 19 Associated Press video journalist Pierre-
Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.
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