Cuba to drill five new oil wells by 2013


HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba on Tuesday announced plans to drill five deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico beginning this summer, expressing confidence that its efforts will be rewarded with major new energy finds.

“We’re about to move to the drilling phase,” said Manuel Marrero, an official with the government authority tasked with overseeing Cuba’s oil sector.

“We’re all really hopeful that we will be able to discover large reserves of oil and gas,” said Marrero, who added that the ventures would be undertaken with the help of unspecified foreign companies.

He said the deepwater wells were to be drilled between 2011 and 2013, and would be in waters ranging in depth between 400 meters (a quarter mile) and 1,500 meters (1.6 miles). He did not specify which countries would be among the foreign partners working with Havana on the project.

Some studies estimate Cuba has probable reserves of between five and nine billion barrels of oil in its economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Cuban authorities have said their crude reserves are as high as 20 billion barrels.

In 2010, Cuba produced 21 million barrels of oil, about the same as it had extracted the previous year, representing a little less than half of its annual energy needs.

Cuba depends on Venezuela for the rest of its oil imports of about 100,000 barrels per day. Any cut to Venezuelan supplies could spell political and economic disaster for Havana.

The only one-party communist regime in the Americas, Cuba has long been plagued by energy dependence that amounts to its economic Achilles’ heel.

Havana used to depend on the eastern bloc for cut-rate oil, and plunged into economic chaos and blackouts when it was cut off after 1989.

Locking in energy independence, aside from potentially turning Cuba from a cash-strapped developing nation into a flush oil exporter, could help project its current regime years into the future.

On Monday, Rafael Tenrreyro, the head of state oil form Cupet’s exploration branch, said Cuba was anxiously awaiting a platform made in China for one of its offshore efforts.

“At some point this summer it should be getting here,” Tenrreyro told reporters, referring to the next few months’ time.

Despite the BP oil spill tragedy in the gulf, Tenrreyro insisted “safety is more than guaranteed. Cuban institutions have made sure that is the case.”

Cuba’s economic zone in the Gulf, just a stone’s throw from the US state of Florida, is divided into 59 blocs. Of those 20 are ventures with Repsol (Spain), Hydro (Norway), OVL (India), PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrovietnam and Petronas (Malaysia). Petrobras (Brazil) recently pulled out and Sonangol (Angola) recently signed on.

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Russia’s Gazprom plunges into Cuba’s offshore oil business


Havana, Cuba (CNN) — Russian energy firm Gazprom has joined a growing list of foreign companies searching for oil off Cuba’s coast.

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Offshore Oil platform

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Gazprom, announced in a news release that it had bought a 30 percent stake in four offshore oil exploration blocks from Malaysia’s state-owned oil company Petronas. No financial details were provided.

The Cuban government says it has up to 20 billion barrels of oil in its portion of the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico, but the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a smaller 4.6 billion barrels.

Cuba has divided its share of the Gulf into 59 blocks and foreign oil companies have leased 21 of them.

In the wake of this year’s BP Gulf oil spill, some in Florida are worried about Cuba drilling so close to home. Some of the blocs are about 50 miles off the coast of Key West.

Petronas leased its four blocks in 2007. Under the agreement, the lease can be extended through 2037 if oil is found and until 2042 if gas is found.

According to analysts and oil experts who have visited Cuba, the country aims to drill seven exploration wells by 2014.

Cuba currently produces about 60,000 barrels of oil per day from onshore wells. It imports another 115,000 bpd from Venezuela on favorable terms.

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