Posted on Thursday, 05.10.12
Cuba embargo could threaten oil-drilling safety, expert says
The embargo with Cuba is an obstacle in preventing a possible oil spill
from the recent drilling projects started off the coast of the communist
By Erika Bolstad
WASHINGTON — The 50-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba is getting in the way
of safety when it comes to deepwater drilling in Cuban waters, an expert
on the communist country's offshore drilling activity said Thursday.
Lee Hunt, the former president of the International Association of
Drilling Contractors, warned that Cold War-era economic sanctions
threaten not only Florida's economy and environment but that of Cuba,
too, in the event of a major disaster on the scale of 2010's Deepwater
Horizon oil spill. The worst-case scenario is "state-sponsored chaos at
a disaster site," Hunt said during an event sponsored by the Center for
International Policy, a Washington think tank.
The U.S. Coast Guard has extensive response plans, as does the state of
Florida. But Hunt said he would give prevention efforts an "F" grade. He
likened the work to stocking body bags for a plane crash — but not
training pilots to fly safely or to maintain aircraft properly.
"We're getting ready for what will inevitably happen if we don't take
the right proactive steps," Hunt said.
His warning and that of other experts came as the Spanish oil company
Repsol is about to tap an offshore reservoir beneath 5,600 feet of
seawater and about 14,000 feet of rock. The company, the first of many
set to drill for oil off Cuba's coast, is working just 77 nautical miles
from Key West, Fla.
Workers are about a week from completing their drilling and are
beginning the technically demanding phase of capping the well and
preparing it for possible production, the panelists at the event said.
Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly, who
along with former Florida Sen. Bob Graham co-chaired the presidential
commission that examined BP's Deepwater Horizon spill, said that in his
most recent visit to Cuba he was reassured that Repsol was moving slowly
in Cuban waters to avoid any surprises. Dan Whittle of the Environmental
Defense Fund said that in his visits to Cuba, well-thumbed copies of the
commission's report looked as though they were "read even more in Havana
Reilly also noted that Cuban officials are regular readers of daily
bulletins from U.S. agencies on U.S. oil drilling regulations. He said
he urged them to follow Mexican offshore guidelines — which he said are
based on U.S. rules.
"Nobody is predicting a catastrophe in association with anything that
the Cubans are overseeing," Reilly said. "In every way, the Cuban
approach to this is responsible, careful and attentive to the risks that
they know they're undertaking."
"Nevertheless, should there be a need for a response … the United States
government has not interpreted its sanctions policy in a way that would
clearly make available in advance the kind of technologies that would be
required," Reilly said.
Several of the experts said Thursday they are confident that the
Treasury Department could react quickly in an emergency to allow U.S.
oil response teams to get emergency permits to do business with the