By David Goodhue/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It could be in the Florida Straits between Cuba and Key West in two weeks.
The moveable $750 million drilling platform was just given a passing grade by inspectors with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as well as members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
U.S. inspectors toured the rig while it was in Trinidad and Tobago on invitation from Spanish oil company Repsol, which will be the first of several international drilling companies to explore for oil in Cuba's part of the Florida Straits. The agencies released a statement that their "personnel found the vessel to generally comply with existing international and U.S. standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide."
"The review is consistent with U.S. efforts to minimize the possibility of a major oil spill, which would hurt U.S. economic and environmental interests," the joint Coast Guard/DOI statement says. "The review compared the vessel with applicable international safety and security standards as well as U.S. standards for drilling units operating in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf."
Jorge Piñon, a former energy industry executive and current visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said the Scarabeo 9 lifted anchor off Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday morning and the voyage to the northern coast of Cuba would likely take 14 days.
Piñon, a former executive with British Petroleum, has been involved in talks about the operation with the U.S. and Cuban governments, as well as the companies that will use the rig.
Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director with the Environmental Defense Fund, who has been a close observer of the country's energy endeavors, also said he heard the Scarabeo 9 will arrive off Cuba in two weeks. Piñon said he expects exploratory drilling to get started very soon after the rig arrives because the contract between Repsol, Eni S.p.A — the Italian company that owns the Scarabeo 9 — and the Cuban government begins when the platform gets there.
He also said it behooves Repsol to get started as soon as possible since the company is paying $511,000 a day to use the rig. He expects an exploratory well to be drilled within 60 to 70 days of the Scarabeo 9's arrival.
The Scarabeo 9 will operate as close as 50 miles from Key West. The prospect of an oil drilling operation taking place that close to the United States has raised concerns from offshore drilling opponents and state and federal lawmakers.
Some concern from the latter comes from those opposed to seeing the Communist Castro regime become a major energy player in this hemisphere. Since information about the building of the Scarabeo 9 became public about two years ago, several members of Congress have introduced legislation aimed at punishing companies taking part in the operation.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's district includes the Keys. She's a fervent critic of the Castro government and issued a statement this week criticizing the Obama administration for allowing U.S. inspectors to conduct what she calls a "routine safety certification of the rig."
"The issue at hand is a state sponsor of terrorism is poised to achieve a tremendous economic boon by entering the oil business and potentially endangering U.S. waters to boot. It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration appears content to just watch that happen," she said.
Environmentalists are concerned because of the depth of the project. The Scarabeo 9 will drill 6,000 feet underwater. The 2010 DeepWater Horizon/British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which took 85 days to staunch, happened at a depth of 5,500 feet.
But Whittle said he believes Cuba is committed to preventing such a disastrous spill from occurring off its coast, and the recent positive U.S. inspection should serve to calm some worries. But he also criticized the United States government for adhering too strongly with its 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. This would largely prevent U.S. companies with expertise in oil cleanup from helping in the event of a disastrous spill in Cuban waters.
"U.S. interests can only be protected with broad dialogue and cooperation between our two countries - something the Cubans have been open to, but the U.S. government is still proceeding cautiously on that front," Whittle said in an e-mail to The Reporter.
The amount of oil located in the area of the Straits that Repsol will explore is not certain. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates about five billion barrels, but the Cuban government thinks the offshore lease holds up to 20 billion barrels.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/13/2587909/oil-rig-could-be-off-key-west.html#storylink=cpy