Photo: US Coast Guard
May 11–WASHINGTON — Although the Spanish company Repsol is moving slowly in drilling an exploratory oil well in waters north of Cuba and the island nation is monitoring the work carefully, the U.S. hasn’t done enough to help prevent an accident there, experts warned Thursday.The U.S. embargo against Cuba would impede a response, said William Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who led a probe of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
While the Cubans have been attentive to the risks, “the United States government has not interpreted its sanctions policy in a way that would clearly make available in advance the kind of technology that would be required” in case of an emergency, Reilly said at a centre for International Policy forum on the drilling.
The kind of equipment used in the 2010 spill could be ensnared by the embargo, Reilly said.
Because of the sanctions, the new drilling rig on Repsol’s site was outfitted with a used blowout preventer — the last defence against loss of well control — instead of a new one from U.S. manufacturers.
Repsol began drilling in February 16 miles from the Cuban coast.
An accident there could send oil into coral reefs along the Cuban and Florida coasts, said Dan Whittle, a senior attorney with the Environmental defence Fund.
The embargo generally bars U.S. commerce with Cuba and caps the amount of U.S.-made components in offshore equipment at 10 per cent. It allows companies to ask the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for licenses to do business with Cuba.
But in an offshore emergency, that could take too long, said lawyer Robert Muse, an international trade specialist.
He said the government should create a general licence allowing anyone connected with spill response or offshore drilling to travel freely to Cuba in an emergency.
Federal officials say they are making plans for companies to move quickly in the event of a spill in Cuban waters, including licenses for U.S. firms to deploy equipment.
Houston-based Helix Energy Solutions Group has a licence to deploy a device to cap a gushing subsea well, designed for Repsol’s drilling. The device is in Houston. Helix has staged chemical dispersants, remotely operated vehicles and other equipment near Tampa, Fla., but it could be on the scene faster if it were in Cuba, said Lee Hunt, former head of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.
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