US, Cuba discuss how to contain oil spills
BY WILLIAM E. GIBSON
WASHINGTON - Florida's coral reefs and delicate marine environment could
become less vulnerable to pollution from potential oil spills under an
agreement taking shape between the United States and Cuba.
The agreement would clear the way for American companies to provide the
latest blowout preventers and other pollution controls to help stave off
spills in Cuban waters and contain slicks before they ride the ocean
currents to Florida.
The breakthrough would ease years of anxiety about oil exploration off
the north coast of Cuba and help avoid a giant spill less than 50 miles
from the Florida Keys.
Environmentalists and oil-cleanup experts hope the two old adversaries
complete the cooperative arrangement before Cuba resumes its hunt for
oil late next year or in 2017.
"Having the best technology sitting on the seafloor 5,000 feet down in
the middle of the Florida Straits is the most sensible approach to
preventing harm to the environment and the economy, both in the U.S. and
in Cuba," said Lee Hunt, former president of the International
Association of Drilling Contractors, who is advising both sides.
Contingency plans to deal with a spill were discussed informally at a
high-level U.S.-Cuban symposium in October. Both sides are moving toward
a joint spill-response strategy - the latest example of attempts to find
ways around the U.S. embargo, in this case to protect the watery
Recent attempts to tap underwater oil deposits north of the island
raised fears of a spill near the Gulf Stream, a powerful current that
rushes north along South Florida's coral reefs and beaches.
Those fears were heightened by the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf
of Mexico in 2010, which caused lasting damage to sea life. Some who
helped clean up that spill attended last month's symposium in Havana.
"A spill would impact the U.S. just like it would impact Cuba. Nobody
wants a spill, and everybody wants to be safe. So it was a mutual goal,"
said Richard Dodge, dean of oceanography at Nova Southeastern
University. He advised the symposium participants on ocean currents and
where they would carry an oil slick.
"Depending on where the spill occurs, it will either get sucked into the
Loop Current and go into the Gulf of Mexico or spin off the Florida Keys
and go as far north as the east coast of the United States," Dodge said
in an interview afterward.
Participants included officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Cuban
Civil Defense and Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
They discussed the possibility of labeling American products sent to
Cuba, such as blowout preventers, as "pollution controls" rather than
"drilling equipment" to avoid embargo restrictions.
The cooperative arrangement, still in the planning stage, would be
modeled after a U.S. agreement with Mexico, which allows for joint
planning exercises to prepare for potential offshore disasters.
The oil-drilling talks extend from other collaborative measures,
including a sister marine sanctuary pact, approved by U.S. officials
this past week, to preserve the habitat of endangered fish that migrate
from Cuba to South Florida and the Gulf.
Exploratory drilling off Cuba was suspended two years ago after initial
attempts failed to find enough oil to be worth extracting. Low oil
prices and tempting targets in other parts of the world have chilled the
search near Cuba.
But Cuban officials, eager to tap an income source and meet Cuba's
energy needs, have made it clear they intend to keep trying. Hunt said
the Cubans are talking with energy companies from Venezuela and Angola
to resume the search.
"They have a whole environment to protect too, so they are not going
into this blindly," Dodge said.
"They will be drilling in deep water, just like Deepwater Horizon. It's
on everyone's mind. Accidents can happen. It means you take as much care
as you can."
Source: US, Cuba discuss how to contain oil spills | The Charlotte