Cuba oil drilling shifts west
that could raise risk for South Florida
May 03, 2012|By William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A giant floating rig hunting for oil north of Cuba is
about to move farther west to dig an exploratory well even closer to the
Gulf Stream that rushes along the South Florida coast.
The exact location of the new site is a closely guarded secret, but
sources familiar with drilling operations say it will be off the
northwest coast of Cuba a little more than 100 miles from Key West.
That's farther from Florida than the current drilling site north of
Havana but closer to the Gulf Stream, which would carry a potential oil
slick toward the Keys and South Florida's beachfront.
Oil drilling this close to Florida, just two years after the Deepwater
Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has raised alarms about a
potential threat to Florida's delicate environment and $60-billion
Repsol, the Spanish energy company that is leasing the rig for $500,000
a day, has yet to strike oil after more than three months of trying. But
it will keep on digging before turning the rig over to a Malaysian
company, Petronas, in late May or June.
Federal scientists have developed computer models – using scenarios
based on currents and wind patterns — to predict where a potential
slick would go. The most likely path would run close to shore along the
southeast tip of the Florida peninsula, perhaps as far north as Cape
Canaveral, before heading into open seas toward the Carolinas.
"If you move the drilling site farther west, there seems to be a
slightly higher risk to the Florida Keys and the area south of Miami,"
said Brad Benggio, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Oil could come ashore anywhere along the southeast Florida coast, he
said, if it is blown by winds from the east or pushed by eddies, which
are smaller cross-currents.
Coast Guard officials have prepared an elaborate response plan, which
says "trajectory modeling suggests that the oil could reach U.S. waters
within two to three days and have potential shoreline impacts within
five to seven days."
Officials hope prevailing currents would push any slick rapidly past
South Florida without it touching shore. But marine scientists and local
officials in South Florida say a giant slick almost certainly would foul
parts of the coastline.