Posted on Monday, 12.12.11
Oil drilling off Cuba prompts talks in region
Officials from Caribbean countries, including the U.S. and Cuba, met to
discuss plans in case a disaster happens at an oil rig off Cuba's coast.
By Erika Bolstad
McClatchy News Service
WASHINGTON — As Cuba embarks on a new round of exploratory offshore
drilling, U.S. officials are slightly more enlightened about the island
nation's plans in the event of a catastrophic oil spill on the scale of
last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Several Caribbean countries, including the United States and Cuba, met
last week in the Bahamas to talk about response plans. U.S. officials
got an opportunity to see the Cuban disaster response plans — they've
already participated in a mock response drill in Trinidad with the
Spanish oil company that's doing the first round of drilling. That
company, Repsol, also agreed to allow U.S. inspectors from the Interior
Department to take a look at the rig that will be doing the drilling.
Sarah Stephens, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in
the Americas, said she was encouraged that Cuban and American officials
met, along with other nations that have an interest in regional oil
"There should be a lot more direct conversation and collaboration
between the U.S., Cuba and others about the rig, because it's
inevitable," she said.
U.S. officials say their priority is mitigating any potential threat to
the United States and its territorial waters from oil drilling in Cuban
waters. But they also say they've done nothing to facilitate oil
drilling in Cuban waters, and that their main goal is to be prepared for
the possibility of an oil spill and how they would respond.
"The United States will continue to engage multilaterally to advance
regional collaboration and to ensure responsible stewardship of the Gulf
of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea," the State Department said in a
statement issued before the meeting in the Bahamas.
Although U.S. officials say they're not actively working to keep Cubans
from drilling in their own waters, the embargo that's been in place
since the 1960s may have caused delays.
Repsol had to find an oil rig made from fewer than 10 percent U.S.
components — not an easy task. Although few rigs are U.S.-made, many
components — including software and blowout preventers — are made in the
The rig, owned by a subsidiary of the Italian oil company Eni, will go
next to state-owned oil companies: Petronas, a Malaysian company, and
ONGC, an Indian state-owned company that will be partnering with the
Russian state-owned company Gazprom.
"That rig was custom built to be sure that it met the embargo
limitations," said Jorge Piñon, a former Amoco executive and a visiting
research fellow with Florida International University's Latin American
and Caribbean Center's Cuban Research Institute. "That's why it's taking
so long, over the last three years, for international oil companies to
be able to drill in Cuba."
Piñon and other experts in Cuba's drilling and regulatory abilities
remain concerned that the U.S. government hasn't spoken with the other
oil giants that will be leasing the rig after Repsol — all state-owned
"Politics have exceeded common sense in protecting the environment and
economy of Florida," Piñon said.
The U.S. doesn't have the same leverage with the other state-owned oil
companies next in line, however, Interior Department officials told
Congress in October. But because it's a public company and because of
its other extensive U.S. interests, Repsol is likely to exercise caution
in a prospect less than 100 miles from the Florida coastline.