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US Embargo Hampers Cuba’s Quest for Offshore Oil

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Cuba is blaming the 49-year-old U.S. economic embargo for delaying the start of oil exploration efforts in the Communist-ruled island’s territorial waters.  An article published Monday in the official weekly Trabajadores refers to “countless” cases over the past two decades in which the United States obstructed Cuba’s quest for a domestic oil industry.

The embargo makes it harder and more expensive for Cuba to obtain needed equipment, the magazine said, while also accusing Washington of pressuring and “blackmailing” foreign energy companies interested in doing business on the island.

Cuba needs the latest technology for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, but, because of the embargo, cannot use any equipment that has more than 10 percent U.S. content.

Finding gear that meets both of those requirements is difficult “in a world where the transnationals of that country (the United States) have wide predominance,” Trabajadores said.

An offshore platform commissioned by Spanish oil major Repsol-YPF from companies in China and Singapore is expected to arrive in Cuba at year’s end to begin drilling in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone of the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.

The zone, which is estimated to hold up to 9 billion barrels of petroleum, covers some 112,000 sq. kilometers (43,240 sq. miles) and is divided into 59 blocks of 2,000 sq. kilometers (772 sq. miles) each.

Repsol is one of several foreign oil companies, including Venezuelan state-owned giant PDVSA, Norway’s Statoil-Hyrdo and PetroVietnam, that have obtained concessions to drill in the zone.

A group of 34 Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington recently sent a letter to Repsol Chairman Antonio Brufau warning that the company could face legal action in the United States if it does not abandon its offshore drilling plans.

Repsol-YPF responded by saying that its activities would strictly comply with U.S. laws governing the Cuban embargo.

The article in Trabajadores also criticized Washington for its refusal to engage in “constructive conversations” with Havana on the safety aspects of offshore oil projects.

William Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who co-headed an investigative commission that probed the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, last month led a delegation of U.S. oil and environmental experts to Cuba to advise on how to avoid accidents during deepwater drilling.

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

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