Oil rig to drill south of Keys by September
Platform nearly complete; Ros-Lehtinen supports bill to sanction oil
By David Goodhue
Florida Keys Keynoter
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose constituency includes the Keys,
said this week that she will reintroduce legislation this session aimed
at preventing " the Cuban regime from becoming the oil tycoons of the
Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade Republican, is responding to reports that
construction of a huge, Chinese-made semi-submersible oil rig is almost
complete and will be leaving Singapore by June. The rig, named the
Scarabeo 9, will likely begin drilling for oil about 6,500 below the
surface of the Straits of Florida by late summer or early fall. It will
be positioned about 40 to 50 miles from Key West.
Jorge Piñon, a former energy industry executive and current visiting
research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International
University, said the transit time for the rig to get here is about 60 to
"My worst-case scenario is late September, including set-up time," Piñon
said, regarding when drilling will begin.
The rig will have a crew of about 220 people, none of them American
because of the nearly 50-year trade embargo imposed by the United
States. The rig is owned by Saipem SpA, a subsidiary of Italian oil
company, Eni SpA. The first company to operate the vessel will be Repsol
Construction of the rig began at the CIMC Raffles Shipyard in China and
was moved to the Keppel FELS shipyard in Singapore last fall. The rig
will be drilling for oil in an area known as the Jagüey. The depth it
will be drilling is about 1,500 feet deeper than the Macondo Prospect,
made infamous by the British Petroleum DeepWater Horizon oil spill that
poured millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in the
spring and summer of 2010. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The inevitability of the rig's arrival is worrisome to both critics of
the Communist Cuban government and to those who fear an oil spill in the
Jagüey could be devastating to Florida's environment, and in turn, its
tourism-dependent economy. What's even more concerning to some is that
the embargo would likely delay any help U.S. companies or government
agencies could offer Cuba in the event of a spill.
News of the Scarabeo 9 broke about two years ago, prompting
Ros-Lehtinen, who is chairman of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs,
to introduce legislation two sessions in a row that would prohibit entry
into the United States any foreign principal of a company or shareholder
who owns a controlling stake in a company that has made an investment of
$1 million or more in a Cuban energy operation. The bill would also make
it illegal or any U.S. citizen to invest in or work for a Cuban offshore
Ros-Lehtinen introduced the bill in the 110th and 111th Congresses and
her staff said this week that she plans on introducing it again on the
news that the Scarabeo 9 rig could be soon on its way.
"The Cuban regime is desperately attempting to prolong its overdue
existence and tyrannical influence by setting up this oil rig. The U.S.
must apply stronger pressure to prevent other companies from engaging
commercially, and any other means, with this crooked and corrupt
regime." Ros-Lehtinen said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday.
The bill does not have a Senate counterpart, according to members of
Ros-Lehtinen's staff. Messages were not returned by staff of Republican
Sen. Marco Rubio or Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson for this report.
Another Florida congressman, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, introduced
a bill a month ago that would punish oil companies doing business with
Cuba by directing the U.S. Interior secretary to deny them American oil
"Repsol has 20 drilling permits awaiting approval for projects in the
Gulf of Mexico. My bill essentially tells Repsol to decide whether it
wants to continue doing business with Cuba or the United States,"
Buchanan said in a statement.
Nelson introduced a similar bill in 2008.
How much oil?
Cuba and other foreign oil companies have identified up to 20
prospective wells in the Cuban Basin of the Caribbean that could yield
billions of barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2008
that there were between 7 and 14 billion barrels in the Northwest Cuba
Basin, where the Scarabeo 9 will be operating. Repsol and the Cubans
think there are more than 20 billion barrels.
Kevin Book, with the Washington, D.C.-based energy research firm
ClearView Energy Partners, said the only reliable way to find out how
much oil is in the basin is by drilling exploratory wells, like Repsol
and a host of other foreign energy companies plan to do beginning this year.
"There is no hard data of which I am aware substantiating proven
economically recoverable reserves in the Cuban Basin, but there also
aren't any contemporary seismic surveys using digital imaging. The best
way to get new data is to drill an exploratory well, and it's clear that
Repsol intends to do that," Book said in an e-mail.
At least six other countries plan on using the Scarabeo 9 once Repsol
finishes its drilling operations. They include Statoil of Norway, ONGC
of India, Petrôleus of Venezuela, Brazil's Petrobras, Russia's Gazprom
and Petronas of Malaysia, according to several media reports.
News of the arrival of the Scarabeo 9 comes a week after President
Barack Obama announced his administration will open up more areas off
the Mid- and South-Atlantic coast and Alaska's National Petroleum
Reserve to oil exploration and production in an effort to lower
near-record-high gasoline prices.