Repsol's Rig To Drill Offshore Cuba Complies With Safety Standards

U.S. officials said Monday a rig operated by Spain's Repsol YPF SA that is expected to drill offshore Cuba in the coming months complies with international and U.S. safety standards.

"U.S. personnel found the vessel to generally comply with existing international and U.S. standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide," the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in the press release. The agency, however, noted that the vessel review "does not confer any form of certification or endorsement under U.S. or international law" and that the U.S. has no legal or regulatory authority over the rig.

The vessel, named Scarabeo 9, was inspected off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago and it will begin drilling a deep-water oil well later this year about 100 kilometers off the Florida Keys.

Repsol, which does business in the U.S., had agreed to let U.S. federal regulators inspect the rig before it enters Cuban waters. The rig's review was aimed at minimizing the possibility of a major oil spill, which would hurt U.S. economic and environmental interests, the regulatory agency said.

While aboard the Scarabeo 9, U.S. officials reviewed vessel construction, drilling equipment, and safety systems--including lifesaving and firefighting equipment, emergency generators, dynamic positioning systems, machinery spaces, and the blowout preventer, according to agency.

In anticipation of increased drilling activities in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. is in discussions with the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico on a broad range of issues, including drilling safety, ocean modeling, and oil spill preparedness and response, in order to reduce the impact of a major pollution incident, the agency said.

Cuba has little experience with offshore oil exploration. In 2004, Cuba drilled a deep-water well, which received little notice. Since then, the U.S. Geological Survey has said there could be a substantial amount of untapped oil off the Cuban coast. Cuba could sell the oil or use it to reduce imports from Venezuela.

The Repsol well is much closer to Florida than any other well in the region. The Gulf of Mexico is home to a big concentration of oil-industry support vessels and equipment, including new technology designed after the Deepwater Horizon spill to cap deep out-of-control wells, but because of a longstanding trade embargo, little of that could be used to fight a spill in Cuban waters.


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