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Cuba's Oil Plans Raise Red Flags

Author: Captain Melissa Bert, USCG, 2011-2012 Military Fellow, U.S.Coast Guard
December 24, 2011
Miami Herald


Scarabeo-9 is en route Cuban to waters, 70 miles from Florida. This mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) is a Chinese-built, Spanish-owned oil rig set to drill for oil along Cuba's northern coast. Cuba is counting on offshore drilling to wean itself from Venezuelan energy dependence. Experts estimate Cuba's continental shelf contains 5 to 20 billion barrels of oil and more than 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Cuba's plans raise red flags. The Scarabeo-9 drilling scenario is a reprise of Deepwater, with similar drilling depth and distance from U.S. shores, and a worst-case discharge even higher than Macondo. An oil blowout in Cuban waters could send crude to the beaches of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Repsol, a Spanish company, is running the show. Unlike BP, Repsol is not subject to U.S. law. Although Repsol has a strong record, it is not accountable to U.S. citizens in a disaster. Another cause for concern is that U.S. sanctions against Cuba prohibit U.S. companies from drilling in Cuba, supplying equipment to or effecting safety regulations in Cuba, or even responding to an oil spill in its waters.

Cuba's pollution response capability is unknown. The Deepwater Horizon response was the largest and most sophisticated in history, but was conducted on site before the oil reached shore, with hundreds of vessels, thousands of responders, and state of the art technology. Waiting until oil coats America's beaches is too late.

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