A new comprehensive and well-researched examination of U.S.-Cuba cooperati9n in petroleum exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico has just been published.
The original document has not yet been posted on the Environmental Defense Fund web site (as of September 10, 2012) but it is available here on the Cuba Central site under the heading Not Like Oil and Water – Cuba and the US Can Cooperate on Drilling.
Authors: Emily A. Peterson, Daniel J. Whittle, J.D., and Douglas N. Rader, Ph.D.
Table of Contents
Background on EDF’s involvement in Cuba 1
Cuba: crown jewel of the Caribbean 2
High connectivity and shared resources with the United States 4
Cuba’s energy supply and demand: current and forecasted 5
Energy relationship with Venezuela 7
Cuba’s offshore energy sector 8
Cuba’s offshore energy resources 8
Concessions in Cuba’s EEZ 10
Risks of a spill in Cuban waters 12
Projected trajectory of a spill 12
Shared environmental resources at risk 13
Economic assets at risk 15
Oil spill preparedness and response 16
International Offshore Drilling Response Plan 19
Model international agreements on oil spill response 20
Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon spill 21
Environmental impacts 22
Economic costs 23
Technical and regulatory capabilities 23
Public communications 24
National Commission findings and recommendations 25
State of U.S.-Cuba environmental cooperation 26
Current collaborations 26
Constraints on collaborations 28
Path forward: policy recommendations 29
Unilateral actions 29
Bi-lateral engagement 30
In May 2012, the Spanish oil company Repsol announced it had drilled a dry hole during its deepwater exploration in Cuba. After having spent roughly $150 million on two failed wells in Cuba’s waters (the first being in 2004), the company revealed it would likely exit the island and explore more profitable fields such as those in Angola and Brazil. In August 2012, Cuba’s state oil company announced that the latest offshore exploration project—a well drilled by Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas on Cuba’s northwest coast—was also unsuccessful.
To some, the outcome of three failed wells out of three attempts in Cuban waters may suggest that the threat of a catastrophic offshore spill impacting U.S. waters and the shared ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico is now moot. To the contrary, the issue is salient now more than ever. Cuba has an existing near-coastal oil industry on its north coast near Matanzas, a near- single-source dependency on imported petroleum from Venezuela, and has exhibited continued strong interest in developing its own offshore capacity. Several additional foreign oil companies are slated to conduct exploratory deepwater drilling in Cuba at least through 2013.
Current U.S. foreign policy on Cuba creates a conspicuous blind spot that is detrimental to the interests of both countries. The United States government enacted stricter regulations governing deepwater drilling in U.S. waters in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and has publicly acknowledged a need to better prepare for a potential major spill in neighboring Cuban waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Yet U.S. policy still does not do enough to lessen the likelihood of such a spill or to ensure that sufficient resources will be at the ready to respond to a spill in a timely and effective manner. Beyond their geographical proximity, Cuba and the United States are tightly interconnected by ocean currents and share ecosystems such that a spill in either country could have profound impacts on fisheries, tourism, and recreation in the entire region. Yet, due to longstanding U.S. economic sanctions, international operators working in Cuba are unable to turn northward to the United States to freely access equipment and expertise in the event of an oil disaster.
The purpose of this report is to present EDF’s position that direct dialogue and cooperation between the United States and Cuba on environmental and safety matters associated with offshore oil and gas development is the only effective pathway to protect valuable environmental and economic interests in both countries. Cooperation now on safety and environmental preparedness surrounding offshore oil can also lay a foundation for broader constructive engagement on environmental protection and natural resources management in the future.
Principally, this report addresses U.S. policy toward Cuba and makes recommendations for improving environmental and safety preparedness related to offshore oil exploration and development in Cuba. This report is not intended nor does it purport to serve as a comprehensive analysis of Cuba’s domestic energy strategy, policies, laws, or regulations.
Deepwater drilling off the northern coast of Cuba and in many other areas of the Gulf of Mexico poses a potential threat to sensitive and vulnerable marine and coastal ecosystems and to coastal communities. Cuba has a sovereign right to determine whether to exploit oil and gas resources within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the same way other nations do, including Cuba’s neighbors in the Gulf of Mexico, the United States and Mexico. Other Caribbean countries, such as the Bahamas, are also considering offshore oil and gas operations in the future. The underlying reality is that the Cuban government will continue with its drilling activities, with or without the acquiescence of U.S. policymakers.
Therefore, EDF proposes policy recommendations along two dimensions: those that the U.S. government should take unilaterally and those that require the U.S. government to engage in meaningful dialogue and cooperation with the Cuban government. In this report, we recommend the following:
- Unilaterally, the United States should revise its licensing process to ensure that the resources of U.S. private companies and personnel could be deployed in a timely and comprehensive manner should an oil spill occur in Cuba.
- On a bilateral level, the U.S. and Cuban governments should create a written agreement similar to existing agreements with neighbors like Mexico and Canada. Such an agreement should stipulate proactive joint planning aimed at maximizing preparedness and response to prevent or mitigate the consequences of an offshore oil spill. (This agreement would supplement any regional, multi-lateral agreement that may result from ongoing discussions described in this report.)
- U.S. and Cuban government agencies should fund and facilitate collaborative research on baseline science of shared marine resources in the Western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The high level of connectivity between the two countries underscores that developing baseline science is an imperative that should not wait for a disaster to occur.
These and other recommendations in this report are pragmatic and fully consistent with those put forth by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The co-chair of the commission and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, William K. Reilly, concurs that environmental cooperation is as critical to U.S. interests as it is to Cuba’s. “Our priority with Cuba should be to make safety and environmental response the equivalent of drug interdiction and weather exchange information, both of which we have very open, cooperative policies with the Cuban government,” Reilly said.
Finally, we are hopeful that the Cuban government will continue to expand its promising energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, so as to minimize fossil fuel reliance and to mitigate environmental threats on the island and beyond.