Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drilling off Keys to begin by December

Posted on Monday, 09.19.11

Drilling off Keys to begin by December

A giant, semi-submersible oil rig en route from Singapore will probably
be drilling in the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba in
mid-December. The rig could arrive earlier, but Repsol, the Spanish oil
company, wants to wait until after hurricane season ends before it
begins drilling.

This latest report on the progress of the Italian-made Scarabeo 9 oil
rig comes from Lee Hunt, the chief executive of the International
Association of Drilling Contractors, who just returned from a trip to
Cuba last week as part of a joint delegation with the environmental
group, the Environmental Defense Fund.

Hunt also said that Repsol plans on having one well drilled by the end
of the year.

Along with Hunt, the fact-finding delegation included William Reilly, a
former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and co-chair of the
White House task force investigating the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf
of Mexico, Richard Sears, former vice president of deepwater drilling
for Royal Dutch Shell, and Dan Whittle, a senior attorney for the
Environmental Defense Fund.

Their goal was to learn how committed the Cuban government is to
operating offshore oil and natural-gas rigs safely and responsibly, and
to find out the best way for American companies with oil-spill expertise
to work with Cuba, despite a 50-year-old economic embargo by the United

"We're shooting ourselves in the foot by not working together," Whittle
said in an interview this week. "There was a lot of speculation in the
past about if Cuba will in fact begin drilling. Well, now we know Cuba
is moving forward as quickly as it can."

Because of the embargo, Repsol would have to rely on companies from the
United Kingdom, Norway and Brazil for help if the Scarabeo 9 caused a
spill, Whittle said.

Whittle and the rest of the group met with senior officials in Cuba's
Ministry of Basic Industry, which regulates the country's energy,
geology and mining and basic chemistry sectors. They also met with
officials from the Ministry of Environment, as well as senior members of
CUPET, Cuba's state-run petroleum company.

Whittle and Hunt said they were encouraged by what they heard from their
hosts during the trip. Whittle said he was especially pleased to see how
interested these officials were to hear Reilly talk about his task
force's recently-released report on the DeepWater Horizon oil spill.

"They're taking the lessons of the BP spill very seriously. They were
dog eared whenever the report came up," Whittle said.

"They could have easily distanced themselves from what happened and said
theirs is a different situation from BP, and said 'thanks very much, but
we don't need your help.' The very opposite happened. They were eager to
hear from Bill Reilly," he said.

Whittle also said that CUPET workers have been training on offshore oil
rigs in Brazil, and they have been taking part in exchange programs with
Canadian oil and natural gas companies.

But Hunt and Whittle said the trade embargo is getting in the way of
ensuring a major spill doesn't spoil sensitive natural habitats in both
the U.S. and Cuba. They have been urging the U.S. Treasury and Commerce
departments to relax some rules to make it easier for domestic companies
to offer help to Cuba.

"We're hoping Treasury will offer a general license to U.S. companies
with expertise in oil cleanup to travel to Cuba in the event of a spill.
This is something that needs to be done right away. The Obama
administration has the authority to do that," Whittle said.

But neither Whittle or Hunt has heard about any movement on that front.

"What we've seen is a benign acceptance of our recommendations. We
haven't seen them tightening down, but on the other hand, they have not
loosened up any," Hunt said.

The U.S. delegation also left the Cuban government with some
recommendations. Chief among them was to establish an oil-spill
contingency fund that would be used to pay for mitigation operations.
The money for the fund would come from oil-company revenue.

The United States established a fund by congressional mandate following
the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.


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