Blog Archives

APNewsBreak: US oil spill plan prepares for Cuba >>> “show me the Plan”

image

By JENNIFER KAY, Associated Press – 2 days ago

MIAMI (AP) — If a future oil spill in the Caribbean Sea threatens American shores, a new federal plan obtained by The Associated Press would hinge on cooperation from neighboring foreign governments. Now that Cuba is the neighbor drilling for oil, cooperation is hard to guarantee.

The International Offshore Response Plan draws on lessons from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and was created to stop offshore oil spills as close to their source as possible, even in foreign waters. The plan dated Jan. 30 has not been released publicly. The AP obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information Act request.

After crude oil stained Gulf Coast beaches, state and federal officials are eager to head off even the perception of oil spreading toward the coral reefs, beaches and fishing that generate tens of billions of tourist dollars for Florida alone.

The plan comes as Spanish oil company Repsol YPF conducts exploratory drilling in Cuban waters and the Bahamas considers similar development for next year. Complicating any oil spill response in the Florida Straits, though, is the half-century of tension between the U.S. and its communist neighbor 90 miles south of Florida.

Under the plan dated Jan. 30, the Coast Guard’s Miami-based 7th District would take the lead in responding to a spill affecting U.S. waters, which includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The district’s operations cover 15,000 miles of coastline and share borders with 34 foreign countries and territories.

Repsol’s operations in Cuban waters are not subject to U.S. authority, but the company allowed U.S. officials to inspect its rig and review its own oil spill response plan.

“We’ve demonstrated already and we continue to demonstrate that we’re a safe, responsible operator doing all in its power to carry out a transparent and safe operation,” Respol spokesman Kristian Rix said Thursday.

Rix declined to elaborate on the company’s response plans, but he did say two minor recommendations made by U.S. officials inspecting the rig were immediately put in place.

If an oil spill began in Cuban waters, Cuba would be responsible for any spill cleanup and efforts to prevent damage to the U.S., but the Coast Guard would respond as close as possible.

Though a 50-year-old embargo bars most American companies from conducting business with Cuba and limits communication between the two governments, the Coast Guard and private response teams have licenses from the U.S. government to work with Cuba and its partners if a disaster arises.

The U.S. and Cuba have joined Mexico, the Bahamas and Jamaica since November in multilateral discussions about how the countries would notify each other about offshore drilling problems, said Capt. John Slaughter, chief of planning, readiness, and response for the 7th District.

He said channels do exist for U.S. and Cuban officials to communicate about spills, including the Caribbean Island Oil Pollution Response and Cooperation Plan. That’s a nonbinding agreement, though, so the Coast Guard has begun training crews already monitoring the Cuban coastline for drug and migrant smuggling to keep an eye out for problems on the Repsol rig.

William Reilly, co-chairman of the national commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill and head of the EPA during President George H.W. Bush, said the Coast Guard generated goodwill in Cuba by notifying its government of potential risks to the island during the 2010 spill.

It would be hard for the Cuban government to keep any spill secret if Repsol and other private companies were responding, Slaughter said.

“Even if we assume the darkest of dark and that the Cuban government wouldn’t notify us, we’d hear through industry chatter and talk. If the companies were notified, I’m quite confident we would get a phone call before they fly out their assets,” he said.

Funding for a U.S. response to a foreign spill would come from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the Coast Guard. As of Feb. 29, that fund contained $2.4 billion.

The plan covers many lessons learned from the 2010 spill, like maintaining a roster of “vessels of opportunity” for hire and making sure the ships that are skimming and burning oil offshore can store or treat oily water for extended periods of time. Other tactics, like laying boom, have been adapted for the strong Gulf Stream current flowing through the Florida Straits.

What the plan doesn’t cover is the research on how an oil spill might behave in the straits, said Florida International University professor John Proni, who’s leading a group of university and federal researchers studying U.S. readiness for oil spills.

Among the unknowns are the effect of dispersants on corals and mangroves, how oil travels in the major currents, the toxicity of Cuban and how to determine whether oil washing ashore in the U.S. came from Cuba.

“My view is that the Coast Guard has developed a good plan but it’s based on existing information,” so it’s incomplete, he said.

Former Amoco Oil Latin America president Jorge Pinon, now an oil expert at the University of Texas, said the Coast Guard had a solid plan.

He cautioned against recent congressional legislation introduced by one of South Florida’s three Cuban-American representatives to curtail drilling off Cuba by sanctioning those who help them do it. The bill is sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

Instead, Pinon said the U.S. needs to formalize agreements with Cuba about who would be in command if an oil well blew, because the U.S. has more resources available.

“The issue is not to stop the spill from reaching Florida waters, the issue is capping the well and shutting it down,” Pinon said. “We can play defense all we want, but we don’t want to play defense, we want to play offense, we want to cap the well.”

Reilly said the U.S. still needs to issue permits for equipment in the U.S. that would be needed if a Cuban well blew, Reilly said. For example, if a blowout occurred, the company would have to get a capping stack from Scotland, which could take up to a week.

“We know from Macondo that a great deal can happen in a week,” Reilly said. “I’ve been very concerned about getting the sanctions interpreted in a way that permits us to exercise some common sense.”

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Source

Cuba drills for oil, but U.S. unprepared for spill

image

By William Booth, Published: March 1

As energy companies from Spain, Russia and Malaysia line up to drill for oil in Cuban waters 60 miles from the Florida Keys, U.S. agencies are struggling to cobble together emergency plans to protect fragile reefs, sandy beaches and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry in the event of a spill.

Drawing up contingency plans to confront a possible spill is much more difficult because of the economic embargo against Cuba. U.S. law bars most American companies — including oil services and spill containment contractors — from conducting business with the communist island. The embargo, now entering its 50th year, also limits direct government-to-government talks.

image

“We need to figure out what we can do to inflict maximum pain, maximum punishment, to bleed Repsol of whatever resources they may have if there’s a potential for a spill that would affect the U.S. coast,” Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) told in January a congressional subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Coast Guard.

An unusual coalition of U.S. environmentalists and oil industry executives have joined forces to push the White House to treat the threat of a spill seriously, while tamping down the anti-Castro rhetoric.

“There is no point in opposing drilling in Cuba. They are drilling. And so now we should be working together to prevent disaster,” said Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director of the Environmental Defense Fund, who has been brokering meetings between Cuban and U.S. officials.

Environmentalists applauded the announcement last week of an agreement between the United States and Mexico to allow for joint inspection of rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the establishment of a common set of safety protocols between the two countries.

Nothing approaching this exists with the Cubans.

Because of the embargo, the talks between Cubans, Repsol and the Coast Guard are taking place in the Bahamas and Curacao — not Havana or Miami — under the auspices of the U.N. International Maritime Organization, paid for by charitable donations from environmental groups and oil industry associations.

A single Florida company is licensed to deliver oil dispersants to Havana. But there are no U.S. aircraft with contracts or permission to fly over Cuban waters. The current plan is to retrofit and deploy aging crop dusters from Cuban farms to dump the dispersants.

Obstacles to a cleanup

Repsol operates leases in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico and has a staff of 300 based in Houston. But because of the embargo, none of the Houston staff is permitted to have anything to do with the Repsol operation in Cuba. Any assistance would have to come from Madrid.

Because of the embargo, and to protect Repsol from economic sanctions, no more than 10 percent of the components on the Scarabeo 9 drilling rig may be manufactured in the United States.

One of those components is the blowout preventer, a vital piece of safety equipment manufactured by National Oilwell Varco in Houston — whose employees cannot service the equipment while it is in Cuban waters.

If a blowout occurred, Repsol would have to await delivery of a capping stack, which would have to travel from Scotland to Cuba and then out to the rig. Experts predict it would take a week at minimum.

Cleanup crews arriving from the United States would be allowed to skim oil from the water and collect surplus oil gushing from the rig, but they’d have to take it someplace. The question is where? The U.S. tankers can’t enter Cuban territorial waters, and if they do, they are prohibited from returning to the United States for six months. The recovered oil would belong to Cuba, and so it can’t travel to the United States.

Modeling of ocean currents by the USGS suggests a spill at the Repsol exploratory well site probably would not affect the Florida Keys but would be swept north by the powerful flow of the Gulf Stream and then begin to deposit oil on beaches from Miami to North Carolina.

“If anything went really wrong out there, I believe there would be a quick political response,” said William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the national commission on the Deepwater spill and head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush.

But a lot can happen in a couple of days, Reilly said. “It’s time to face reality. It is, completely, in the interest of the United States that we get this right.”

“This is a disaster waiting to happen, and the Obama administration has abdicated its role in protecting our environment and national security by allowing this plan to move forward,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ros-Lehtinen and her colleagues sponsored legislation to deny visas to anyone who helps the Cubans advance their oil drilling plans. They have also sought to punish Repsol.

“We need to figure out what we can do to inflict maximum pain, maximum punishment, to bleed Repsol of whatever resources they may have if there’s a potential for a spill that would affect the U.S. coast,” Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) told in January a congressional subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Coast Guard.

An unusual coalition of U.S. environmentalists and oil industry executives have joined forces to push the White House to treat the threat of a spill seriously, while tamping down the anti-Castro rhetoric.

“There is no point in opposing drilling in Cuba. They are drilling. And so now we should be working together to prevent disaster,” said Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director of the Environmental Defense Fund, who has been brokering meetings between Cuban and U.S. officials.

Environmentalists applauded the announcement last week of an agreement between the United States and Mexico to allow for joint inspection of rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the establishment of a common set of safety protocols between the two countries.

Nothing approaching this exists with the Cubans.

Because of the embargo, the talks between Cubans, Repsol and the Coast Guard are taking place in the Bahamas and Curacao — not Havana or Miami — under the auspices of the U.N. International Maritime Organization, paid for by charitable donations from environmental groups and oil industry associations.

A single Florida company is licensed to deliver oil dispersants to Havana. But there are no U.S. aircraft with contracts or permission to fly over Cuban waters. The current plan is to retrofit and deploy aging crop dusters from Cuban farms to dump the dispersants.

Obstacles to a cleanup

Repsol operates leases in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico and has a staff of 300 based in Houston. But because of the embargo, none of the Houston staff is permitted to have anything to do with the Repsol operation in Cuba. Any assistance would have to come from Madrid.

Because of the embargo, and to protect Repsol from economic sanctions, no more than 10 percent of the components on the Scarabeo 9 drilling rig may be manufactured in the United States.

One of those components is the blowout preventer, a vital piece of safety equipment manufactured by National Oilwell Varco in Houston — whose employees cannot service the equipment while it is in Cuban waters.

If a blowout occurred, Repsol would have to await delivery of a capping stack, which would have to travel from Scotland to Cuba and then out to the rig. Experts predict it would take a week at minimum.

Cleanup crews arriving from the United States would be allowed to skim oil from the water and collect surplus oil gushing from the rig, but they’d have to take it someplace. The question is where? The U.S. tankers can’t enter Cuban territorial waters, and if they do, they are prohibited from returning to the United States for six months. The recovered oil would belong to Cuba, and so it can’t travel to the United States.

Modeling of ocean currents by the USGS suggests a spill at the Repsol exploratory well site probably would not affect the Florida Keys but would be swept north by the powerful flow of the Gulf Stream and then begin to deposit oil on beaches from Miami to North Carolina.

“If anything went really wrong out there, I believe there would be a quick political response,” said William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the national commission on the Deepwater spill and head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush.

But a lot can happen in a couple of days, Reilly said. “It’s time to face reality. It is, completely, in the interest of the United States that we get this right.”

Source

Obama Hits Iran-Venezuela Ties. Now What?

image

Posted By José R. Cárdenas

One certainly hopes that President Obama’s recent criticism of Iran-Venezuela relations indicates a new willingness on the part of his administration to confront the growing menace of the radical Islamist regime in the Western Hemisphere.

In comments submitted to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, the president said that Hugo Chávez‘s ties to Iran “have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people” and expressed concern about his anti-democratic behavior and his failure “to contribute to the security in the region.”

“Here in the Americas,” he said, “we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely.”

The president’s comments came on the heels of further explosive revelations on the extent of Iranian subversion of U.S. interests in the region.  Earlier this month, the Spanish-language network Univision aired an investigative documentary,“The Iranian Threat” — the product of months of research — that included incriminating information on Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats in Mexico discussing waging cyberattacks on sensitive U.S. computer systems, including those of nuclear power plants.

Shortly thereafter, U.S. law enforcement officials revealed details of an investigation into a Lebanese bank in Canada that laid out Hezbollah’s sophisticated global money-laundering operations that includes direct involvement by senior officials in the lucrative South American  drug trade.  The revelations put the lie to the State Department’s long-repeated talking point that Hezbollah merely “raises funds” in Latin America for its operations in the Middle East.

Both reports drew sharp reactions from Capitol Hill, where a number of members have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the direction of the administration’s regional policy.  Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he would hold hearings on Iran’s destructive role in the region when the Senate reconvenes in 2012.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said she would request the State Department to conduct its own investigation “into Iran’s deeply troubling partnerships with regional dictators such as Chavez, Morales, Correa, Ortega and the Castro brothers.”

(It bears noting as well that in the Nov. 22 Republican presidential candidates’ National Security Debate, the threat posed by radical Islam operating in the Western Hemisphere was featured prominently as a national security issue that official Washington was neglecting.)

Thankfully, it appears the steady drumbeat of concern about Iran and their Hezbollah proxies’ strategic push into the Americas has finally caught the White House’s attention.   To date, U.S. law enforcement agencies have had to confront this threat virtually alone.  It is time the entire Executive Branch foreign policy apparatus joins in, including the slumbering State Department.

Most importantly, it is time for ramping up actions to back up the president’s words.   This includes not only identifying more individuals, companies, and/or governments found to be aiding and abetting Iran and Hezbollah in their nefarious activities and bringing the full weight of sanctions against them, but also conducting a full-bore public diplomacy campaign for regional audiences on Iran’s intentions and activities in the region and the dangers for their societies therein.

To date, consorting with Iran has been a freebie for anti-American demagogues like Chávez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.  The administration needs to move now to raise the costs.

Source

%d bloggers like this: