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Analysis: Cuban oil production down

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Carmen Gentile
Miami (UPI) Feb 27, 2008
Oil production in Cuba has fallen steadily over the last half decade from a production high of nearly 65,000 barrels per day in 2003, according to energy experts on the subject.

Over the past five years, production in Cuba has dropped to about 51,300 bpd, said Jorge Pinon, a researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies at the University of Miami.

While some are quick to assert that inefficiencies in the extraction process are to blame, Pinon notes Cuba's main oil field, Varadero, is in its fourth decade of production and showing signs of being near the end of its lifespan.

"The Varadero oil field has been around for more than 30 years and is now in its natural declining period," he told United Press International.

Other fields including Boca de Jaruco and Puero de Escondido have also been in production for several years and face inevitable depletion.

Efforts by Canadian energy firm Sheritt International to improve extraction methods could prolong the life of the field and others along the northern coast of Cuba, he said.

Those efforts come just in time as Cuba's energy sector is reaching a critical juncture for both the future of domestic supplies and possible exports.

Though the island receives 90,000 bpd in discount oil from Venezuela, its basic energy needs -- estimated at 145,000 bpd -- are barely being met.

Electrical power shortfalls are a chronic dilemma in Cuba, forcing much of the country to rely on diesel generators that run on Venezuelan fuel.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said his country's oil shipments to Cuba will continue under the new leadership of Raul Castro.

However, some suggest the relationship between Raul and Chavez will not be nearly as cordial as the ties shared by Chavez and his longtime mentor, Fidel Castro.

Raul Castro is expected to court other Latin American energy firms such as Brazil's state-run Petrobras, which already has made significant inroads to developing Cuba's promising, albeit unproven, offshore oil potential.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, some 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may well be lurking below the ocean floor of the Northern Cuban basin. The reserves are said to possibly rival the estimated reserves in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Brazil recently took key steps to secure its future in Cuba's energy sector. Last month Petrobras signed a deal with Cuba to begin exploring its potentially oil-rich waters in the Gulf of Mexico in exchange for a multimillion-dollar aid program.

While Petrobras and Cuba already have a longstanding relationship, the agreement marked the first time the Brazilian company would be granted access to the gulf area coveted by several nations, including China and India.

And in another move seen as a diplomatic courting of Cuba for its energy potential, Chavez traveled to Cuba at the end of 2007 for the grand reopening of a Soviet-era oil refinery.

The refinery has been dormant since the late 1980s, though with the help of Venezuela and some $136 million in repairs funded by Caracas, the plant is expected to go online Friday, according to Cuban state media.

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