Health and Environment|

US anxious over Cuban oil project

An enormous £473m Chinese-manufactered petroleum rig, the Scarabeo 9, will be arriving in Cuba before the New Year, to start drilling exploratory wells.

A wide range of international petroleum companies from Norway, Spain, Russia, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Canada, Venezuela, China and Angola – but not the USA – are getting in line to hire the oil rig and look for the alleged oil deposits.

Rafael Tenreiro, who heads the exploration mission for the Cuban state-owned petroleum company Cupet, has confidently predicted that several wells will be dug next year which will surely produce substantial discoveries. Mr Tenreiro said that it was not a question of whether there was oil, but rather a matter of when they would start producing.

The Spanish firm Repsol is first in line to drill at an exploratory well in very deep waters just 80km off the Floridan coast. This has alarmed the United States since, if an accident were to happen, the currents would surely drag any oil spill into the Everglades and Florida’s beaches.

In case of an accident, under the American trade embargo, neither the Coast Guard or American firms could assist Cuba provide much needed tools such as pumps, skimmers, booms and oil dispersant equipment. Cuba would have to ask for help from the Norwegians, Brazilians or the British.

Lee Hunt, who is president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors in Texas, said that, in the case of an accident, there would be a response time of 4-6 weeks instead of 36 – 48 hours in terms of equipment. He warned that this was a “serious impediment”.

Mr Hunt worked with a team of environmental and oil industry experts who were given the go-ahead by the White House to visit Cuba and hold discussions about safety issues. William Reilly, who was the former leader of the US Environmental Protection Agency as well as co-author of the federal report of last year’s BP oil catastrophe, led the group.

Reilly said he was impressed with Cuba’s understanding of the environmental risks and awareness of current international safety standards. Last year’s explosion and blow-out on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig near the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of 11 people and sent 5 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is considered one of the worst environmental catastrophes to ever hit the Gulf Coast. It took eighty-five days for the well head (nearly 5,500 feet under the surface) to be capped. The Scarabeo 9 is due to drill even deeper under water.





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