America's North Shore Journal

Supporting the Ninth Amendment

Cuba to drill for oil where Americans fear to tread

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Egret in the Florida Keys copyright Frank Derfler

Egret in the Florida Keys copyright Frank Derfler

Just about 55 miles from the United States and the lovely Florida Keys is the island nation of Cuba. Its dictatorship has been at odds with the U.S. since 1959. Recent geological surveys have determined that the waters off Cuba may lay atop up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil. Cuba intends to exploit these reserves and has already leased many parcels to oil firms from all over the world.

Graphic showing Cuban offshore oil drilling leases

At the same time, previously existing Congressional bans and current Obama administration bans on oil drilling have placed American offshore oil exploration into disarray.

Graphic showing offshore oil drilling bans

The administrative ban ends exploration in the green area on the map, rendering the entire coast of the United States off limits for oil exploration. Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports:

The Spanish energy company, Repsol, which drilled an exploratory well in 2004 off the coast near Havana, has contracted to drill the first of several exploratory wells with a semi-submersible rig that is expected to arrive in Cuba at the end of the year, said Jorge PiƱon, an energy expert and visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. He said the rig is expected to drill down 5,600 feet in an area about 22 miles north of Havana and 65 miles south of the Marquesas Keys.

In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey produced a report on the potential of the North Cuban Basin. It projected about 4.6 billion barrels of oil in that geological feature, much of which is in Cuban waters.

map of the North Cuban Basin

Among the international companies identified as preparing to drill in Cuban waters are ONGC from India, the Spanish firm Repsol, and an English company named Sherritt International.

While Cuba is a party to several treaties about oil spill response and oil drilling safety measures, it is clear that the small, impoverished nation has few resources to provide in the event of a disaster such as the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. Nearly all the leases are much closer to the United States shore than was the BP well. In addition, the Gulf Stream flows through those waters where it was hundreds of miles from the BP spill. In May, concerned scientists met in Washington and expressed continued concerns over the political limits to environmental cooperation in this ecologically important region.

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