US Is Urged to Plan to Aid Cuba in Case of an Oil Spill

News from Cuba | Thursday, 8 September 2011

The United States should urgently make plans for helping Cuba in the event of an offshore oil spill as it prepares to begin exploring fields opposite Florida this year, William Reilly, the co-chairman of a commission that examined the Deepwater Horizon spill, said during a visit here.

Mr. Reilly, who met with Cuban officials, said they were hungry for expertise about offshore oil development and happy to get it from the United States. “It seems to me to be profoundly in the interest of the United States to ensure that, if there should be a spill in Cuban waters, all efforts are undertaken by both government and private entities in the United States to assist in responding,” he said Wednesday.

Mr. Reilly was part of a delegation organized by the Environmental Defense Fund and the International Association of Drilling Contractors, who have found common cause in pressing their message on the risks of shunning Cuba as it makes its first full-scale push into offshore drilling.

Repsol, the Spanish oil company, plans to dig at least one well using a Chinese-built rig, which is set to reach Cuba in November. A significant discovery would greatly change Cuba’s economic prospects, but the possibility has also raised concerns about potential ecological disasters.

Cuba produced about 50,000 barrels of oil a day in 2009, according to Cuban government figures, and imported 120,000 barrels more a day from Venezuela.

Members of the delegation said it was not clear how drilling companies working in Cuban waters would be able to obtain safety equipment from the United States, like capping stacks or blowout preventers, to prevent spills or mitigate their effect.

The Treasury Department has said it will issue licenses to allow American companies to operate in Cuba under the economic embargo on a case-by-case basis, but experts contend that the licenses need to be broad in their scope.

John Broder contributed reporting from Washington.

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