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Standards on Cuba's offshore drilling?

by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Apr 15, 2011
Cuban offshore drilling is an "issue of concern," U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

"We're watching it closely," Salazar said of Cuba's plans, The Hill reported Thursday, the day Interior hosted an international summit on offshore drilling safety that focused on the lessons learned from last year's Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico.

Cuba and its foreign partners will begin drilling five oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, with production slated for 2013. The country's Gulf of Mexico reserves are estimated to be about 20 billion barrels.

At the summit, attended by representatives from 12 countries and the European Union, Salazar called for the creation of an international body to set global standards for offshore oil and gas drilling. A second meeting is tentatively scheduled next year on the Gulf spill's second anniversary, in Oslo, Norway.

But Cuba was "conspicuously absent and missing" from the Washington summit, said Jorge Pinon, president of Amoco Corporate Development Co. Latin America from 1991 to 1994.

Writing this week in the Cuba Standard business magazine, Pinon said Cuba "should not be kept out of these important meetings."

Noting Cuba's environmental agency and energy regulatory agency are in the process of reviewing and updating the country's drilling regulations, Pinon said they should have "full and open access" to the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident.

"It is in the United States' best national interest for Cuba to participate in these important conversations as a full-fledged partner," he said.

Pinon suggested the 1990 U.N. International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation agreement as a common umbrella under which the United States and Cuba could meet.

U.S. regulators met with their counterparts in Mexico earlier this week to come up with uniform standards for offshore drilling in the Gulf, but Cuba was not part of those discussions, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Michael Bromwich, director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said federal officials have talked with Spain's Repsol about its plans to drill off Cuba as early as this summer but have not made an agreement to ensure that work meets the same standards it would if it were in U.S. waters.

"Everyone has an interest in there being the highest standards possible that are observed in all of the drilling offshore, in all three countries that co-own the Gulf of Mexico," Bromwich said, referring to the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. "That would certainly be desirable, but finding the mechanism to do that is tricky and needs to be explored further."

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