Last week, a large drilling rig arrived in the Gulf waters just north of Havana, Cuba. It will sink an exploratory well deep into the seabed, launching Cuba’s hopes of striking offshore oil.
The Scarabeo-9 platform was visible from Havana’s sea wall as it moved westward to its final drill site, about 60 miles south of Key West, according to ABC News. Spanish oil company, Repsol PRF, is leasing the rig for about half a million dollars a day and expects to begin drilling within days to confirm whether the reserves are oil-rich or not.
This has been quite a process as something always came up at every step by warnings of possible environmental implications and decades of confrontation between Cuba and the U.S. The United States trade embargo virtually bans U.S. companies from doing oil business with Cuba and threatens foreign companies with sanctions if they don’t follow certain restrictions. To avoid sanctions, Repsol chose the Scarabeo-9, a 380-foot-long, self-propelled, semisubmersible behemoth built in China and Singapore and capable of housing 200 workers. The rig qualifies for the Cuba project because it was built with less than 10 percent U.S.-made part.
The Scarabeo-9's blowout preventer, a key piece of machinery that failed in the 2010 Macondo-Deepwater Horizon disaster, is state of the art. But its U.S. manufacturer is not licensed to work with Cuba so replacement parts must come through secondary sources. Maintenance will also be more difficult in this situation. Cuba will be fully responsible for any spills or spill response, as the embargo requires licenses for all equipment and emergency response services.
U.S. inspectors have examined the rig earlier last week in Trinidad and provided it with a clean bill of health, although did not constitute any certification. Surprisingly, there have been some shared fears by parties on both sides of the embargo issue – some say an environmental disaster shows the embargo needs to be lifted, others say it needs to be tougher as it could not prevent Cuba from drilling.
Cuba’s offshore reserves size is still unknown, but is estimated at 5 to 9 billion barrels. Island officials hope that a big strike will put the much-needed boost into their struggling economy. A discovery could dramatically change Cuba as a whole, and change its relationship with the United States as well.