Repsol’s well in Cuba’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was drilled by the Scarabeo 9, a 6th generation semi submersible drilling rig.
The Saipem-owned rig failed to find hydrocarbons, and Repsol’s spokesman told BusinesWeek that the result is disappointing but not unusual saying that every four of five offshore wells turn out to be a dry hole.
He said that the Spanish company was analyzing the data collected before making any further decisions.
Scarabeo 9, capable of operating in water depths of up to 3,600 meters, was built by Singapore’s Keppel specifically for this campaign.
Due to the United States trading embargo against Cuba, Repsol had to come up with a rig with almost no U.S. made parts in it, and according to Reuters, the only U.S. manufactured part on the Scarabeo 9 rig is a blowout preventer, a part that malfunctioned and caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Drilling of the first well in the long-awaited exploration of Cuba‘s offshore oilfields has gone slower than expected, but should be completed by mid-May, according to reports.
Reuters quoted sources close to the project as saying drillers had encountered harder rock beneath the sea bed than expected, which combined with other minor problems, had slowed progress.
When drilling began on 1 February Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF said drilling of the deep-water well was anticipated to take about 60 days to complete.
A Repsol spokesman could not confirm on Friday the projected mid-May completion date, when contacted by Reuters.
This well, which is in 1706 metres of water off the communist-run island’s north-west coast, is the first of five currently planned, Cuban officials say.
Cuba has said it could have 20 billion barrels in its offshore fields. It needs the oil to end its dependence on Venezuela, which ships it 114,000 barrels a day.
Cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is Cuba’s top ally, but island leaders worry that the oil flow could stop if he dies or loses his bid for re-election later this year, Reuters reported.
The US Geological Survey estimated Cuba may have 5 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore, but its study covered only part of the Cuban zone.
Reuters cited various unnamed sources as saying Repsol had been encouraged by its findings thus far, but the company has said results will not be known until the well is finished and studies are conducted.
Oil experts say it will take three years or more to bring the Cuban oil on line, if enough is found to justify production, according to Reuters.
After Repsol completes its well, it will hand the Scarabeo 9 drilling rig over to Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas and its Russian partner Gazprom Neft for a second well.
Then it will go back to Repsol, which has a consortium with Norway’s Statoil and ONGC Videsh, a unit of India’s ONGC, for another well, Reuters reported.
The massive Chinese-built rig, which is more than 32 kilometres offshore but visible from Havana, is being leased from owner Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni.
Due to the longstanding US trade embargo against Cuba, no American oil companies are involved in the project.
Repsol drilled a well in Cuban waters in 2004 and found oil, but said it was not commercially viable. Technological limitations imposed by the embargo made it difficult to find another rig for work in Cuba, industry sources have said.
The project has raised environmental concerns in the US, particularly in Florida, which is 145 kilometres north of Cuba and fears its shores could be damaged if there is an accident similar to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The Scarabeo-9 platform was about 10 miles off northern Cuba Thursday and could already be seen from the coast.
The rig, built in China and Singapore and initially due to arrive in the summer of 2011, is heading west to an area off the coast of the city of Mariel, an industry official told Efe, adding that exploratory drilling is expected to begin soon.
The platform will be used to determine the crude potential of Cuba’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which is located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and estimated to hold up to 9 billion barrels of petroleum in more than a score of commercially significant prospects.
The EEZ 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, 22 of which have been awarded to foreign companies such as Spain’s Repsol, Venezuela’s PDVSA and PetroVietnam.
Eight onshore blocks also have been awarded to Cuban state oil firm Cupet and five others to foreign companies, according to official figures.
Cuba’s oil and gas output has stabilized over the past five years at a level of 4 million tons of oil equivalent, according to the Basic Industry Ministry.
Last year, several U.S. House Democratic and Republican leaders urged Repsol, which also has leases to drill in U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, to drop plans to explore for oil in Cuban waters and warned the company of possible legal action in the United States.
In a letter sent to Repsol Chairman and CEO Antonio Brufau, 34 House lawmakers said any exploratory drilling the oil company conducts in Cuban waters “will provide direct financial benefit to the Castro dictatorship.”
U.S. officials also have expressed concerns about environmental risks considering the drilling site’s proximity to U.S. soil, just 95 miles from the Florida Keys, although Repsol has pledged to adhere to U.S. regulations and the highest industry standards in its drilling in Cuban territorial waters.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the Scarabeo-9 last week and found it to be in compliance with U.S. and international standards governing deepwater drilling.
BSEE director Michael Bromwich told the House and Senate last year that U.S. authorities had witnessed a spill response exercise carried out at Repsol’s office in Trinidad and that during that simulation Repsol technicians demonstrated their ability to respond successfully to a hypothetical spill.
Concerns about Cuba’s plans to tap its offshore oil reserves have grown in the wake of the devastating 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuba is hoping crude discoveries will provide a boost to the communist-ruled island’s ailing economy and make it less dependent on imported oil from close ally Venezuela. EFE
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