[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Oil drilling off the Keys to begin in December


(Miami Herald)

Posted on Mon, Sep. 19, 2011
Drilling off Keys to begin by December


The Scarabeo 9 rig is expected to begin drilling south of Key West by mid-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 States.

"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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