HAVANA TIMES (dpa) — Another deep-water oil exploration rig has entered Cuban waters, reported the Cuban press today. This new platform comes in the wake of the recent withdrawal of the latest generation Scarabeo-9 rig after it proved unsuccessful in several drilling attempts.
The newly arriving oil rig, “Songa Mercur,” is now situated in an area to the north of the island and will start up drilling operations “in the next few days” for the Russian energy firm Zarubezhneft, according to reports from the state-owned Cubapetroleo agency as cited by the official Granma newspaper.
“Operations are planned to be carried out for about six months,” added the newspaper. The exploratory well will bore to a depth of 6,500 meters deep [just over four miles] below sea-level, “the deepest ever drilled in Cuba,” explained Granma.
The new drilling is part of a broader campaign by the island’s authorities to find oil in Cuban waters. Raul Castro’s government signed agreements with several multinational companies; including Spain’s Repsol, Venezuela’s PDVSA and Petronas of Malaysia for exploratory drilling rights.
The discovery of oil in Cuban waters of the Gulf of Mexico is one of the great economic hopes the government in Havana.
In recent months, however, there were three failures, with discoveries of only dry wells or ones unsuitable for commercial exploitation. Repsol announced in May that it was ceasing its exploration work on the island after it came up empty on its first and only drill.
In early November, Venezuela’s PDVSA also announced that it was closing its well after exploratory efforts proved fruitless; nevertheless, the firm stresses that it will continue to operate in Cuba. Just prior to that, efforts by Malaysia’s Petronas and Russian group Gazprom Neft were also unsuccessful.
For the ultra-deep-water oil exploration, several of the companies involved contracted for the modern Scarabeo-9 platform, which came to the island in late January. The Scarabeo-9, however, was removed after its first few attempts failed.
The Songa Mercur platform is owned by the Norwegian company Songa Offshore and it “has the means to ensure that work is done efficiently and safely,” according to Granma.
Because of the restrictions of the US embargo against Cuba, the platform had to be inspected (by the ModuSpec Company in this instance) before it reached the island, the newspaper said. The US embargo prevents high-tech equipment such as Songa Mercur from operating in Cuba if more than 10 percent of its parts are US-made.
Cuba estimates that its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico — covering an ocean floor area of about 112,000 square kilometers — possesses reserves of some 20 billion barrels of crude. Although coming up with smaller figures, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) also estimates that a significant share of oil exists in the undersea basin to the north of the island.
The government of Raul Castro currently receives its oil from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which supplies the island with about 100,000 barrels of oil a day on very favorable terms.