Tag Archives: Petroleum

CARIBBEAN VIEW: VENEZUELA IN FINANCIAL DIFFICULTY, WILL PETRO CARIBE SURVIVE?

petrocaribe2-655x436By Sir Ronald Sanders

Thursday, November 27, 2014 – 14:20

Original article here: CARIBBEAN 360  e

 The government of Venezuela is undoubtedly disappointed with the outcome of the 166th meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held in Vienna, Austria on 27 November 2014.

Despite intense lobbying by Venezuela, the OPEC decided not to cut oil production even in the face of declining oil prices globally.  The official communiqué of the meeting declared that “the Conference decided to maintain the production level of 30.0 mb/d, as was agreed in December 2011”.  This was bad news for Venezuela which needs to sell oil at US$120 per barrel to meet repayments of its loan commitments; finance its domestic social welfare programme; provide the requisite goods and services for its people, including security; and to fund its Petro Caribe arrangements with neighbouring countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Venezuela wanted oil production to be decreased urgently so that the price of oil could go up against reduced supply.  The country’s foreign minister, Rafael Ramirez, tried to spearhead an effort to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day by organizing a meeting of non-OPEC oil producers Russia and Mexico with Venezuela and Saudi Arabia in Vienna on 25 November, but the effort came to naught.

Worse yet for Venezuela, its representatives failed to convince many Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, that the oil production of all the OPEC countries should be cut. The Saudis, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have large foreign currency reserves and therefore can withstand a drop in oil prices for a fairly long time. Their purpose in keeping the price of oil low is to wreck shale oil production in countries such as the United States.  Shale oil companies need a high price of oil to justify investment in production.  Clearly, the Saudis and other powerful OPEC members have calculated that the only way they can remain dominant as oil suppliers in the global market is to keep shale-oil producers out of it.

Before the crucial OPEC meeting, the oil price was hovering close to US$80 a barrel, lower than it has been for many years and largely because of shale-oil production.  Immediately after the Vienna meeting, the price fell as low as US$72.74 a barrel. Even if prices stabilise in the coming weeks to around US$75 a barrel, Venezuela will face a short fall of almost US$40 a barrel – a huge blow to its revenues and its economy.

Against this current background, an undertaking given on 20 November by Ramirez, on behalf of the Venezuelan government, to the 14th meeting of the Petro Caribe Council assumes a huge significance.  Ramirez emphasized that Petro Caribe “is an energy agreement that is perfectly sustainable over time” and he pledged his government’s “firm commitment” to it.   He made this commitment, just one week before the Vienna meeting when it was clear that the majority of OPEC members would not cut oil production in order to hike the price, so he must have done the arithmetic to know that Petro Caribe could be sustained even at a reduced world price for oil.

The fact is that, in economic and financial terms, oil shipments under Petro Caribe, while generous to its recipient countries, are a small portion of Venezuela’s production, and the delayed payment terms have a smaller impact on Venezuela’s revenues in comparison with the bigger blow of a huge drop in the price of its oil sold globally.  It is, therefore, quite likely that, in financial terms, the Venezuelan government will be able to sustain Petro Caribe as foreign minister Ramirez has pledged.

The problem that Petro Caribe poses for the Venezuelan government is more political than financial.  Within Venezuela, opposition parties have demonised Petro Caribe as giving away Venezuela’s financial resources when the people of the country need greater support.  The decline in government revenues, resulting from a loss of almost $40 a barrel for oil, will put severe strain on the government of President Nicolas Maduro, and will embolden the opposition to further paint the picture of Petro Caribe as giving away money that should be spent on the needs of the Venezuelan people.  That is a huge political difficulty for Maduro.

The Petro Caribe beneficiary countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Suriname.  With oil at about US$75 a barrel, they can each cope with the price.  So, how Petro Caribe now benefits them is in the deferred payment component.  Many of the beneficiary countries pay 40 % of cash up front for oil shipments, while the balance of the price is converted to a 25-year loan at 1 % with a two-year moratorium on payments.  Many of the beneficiary countries have been using the loan component of the price to pay public service salaries and to fund their recurrent costs.  But the debt has piled-up for several of them.

Sensibly, those countries should now set aside the deferred payment component of the oil price to build-up their foreign-currency reserves  and to help meet the full price of oil should this Venezuelan government –or any other – be compelled to significantly alter or dismantle Petro Caribe.

So, at the moment, despite the unwelcome outcome of the OPEC meeting for Venezuela, Petro Caribe beneficiary countries, including those in the Caribbean, will continue to benefit even as the Venezuelan economy reels from the impact of US$40 a barrel less in income for its oil.

The beneficiary countries have good reason for appreciating the goodwill and co-operation of the Maduro Government.   They would best show it not only by building-up their foreign reserves to cope with future increases in oil prices that will inevitably come, but also by actually repaying the loan component of the oil shipments they now receive.  By doing the latter, they would reduce their own high indebtedness and they would also allow Maduro to show the Venezuelan people a return on the investment that he and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, made in Caribbean and Central American countries.

Sanders is a Senior Fellow at London University

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AFTER OFFSHORE OIL FAILURE, CUBA SHIFTS ENERGY FOCUS

By Marc Frank; Reuters; 1:00 p.m. EDT, August 11, 2014

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba has shifted its focus away from offshore oil, concentrating on renewable energy and improving output from onshore wells due to a lack of interest by foreign companies for further deep-water exploration, sources close to the industry say.
With so much oil readily available around the world, oil companies including those from allies China and Russia see little incentive in drilling off the Caribbean island, delaying the Cuban dream of oil wealth that could inject vigor into its socialist revolution.

With the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba further complicating drilling plans, the country is seeking investors in renewable energy such as biomass and wind while attempting to increase output from existing onshore and shallow water wells.

Russia’s state-run Rosneft and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) separately agreed last month to help Communist-run Cuba extract more oil along the traditional northwest heavy oil belt, but did not sign on to deepwater exploration.
The northwest heavy oil belt is a 200-mile (320-km) stretch of the northern coast from Havana to Villa Clara and reaching up to 3 miles (5 km) offshore. It produces poor quality oil that meets 40 percent of the country’s needs.

Rosneft and CNPC will also support the horizontal drilling of new wells from shore and join Canadian firm Sherritt International and another Russian state-run oil company, Zarubezhneft, which are already carrying out similar work. Cuba had hoped Russia and China, whose presidents visited in July, would explore deepwater offshore fields that it says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil and end its dependence on socialist ally Venezuela. Venezuela sends 115,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba under favorable terms.

“The Cubans have stopped talking about offshore oil exploration in the state-run media and in private appear more interested in new recovery methods for existing wells, biogas projects and windmill farms,” a European diplomat said.

Three deep-water wells drilled in 2012 by Spanish, Norwegian, Indian, Malaysian, Russian and Venezuelan firms came up dry. All but the Norwegian state firm Statoil ASA and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA have pulled out, and those companies are inactive. Future drilling has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

Untitled-Scanned-43Pumping Petroleum, Near Cardenas, 1994

A BIG GAMBLE

Difficult geology from hard rock encountered while sinking the wells, alternative prospects elsewhere and U.S. sanctions that require oil rigs to carry less than 10 percent U.S. technology are discouraging further drilling, according to Western diplomats.
“Exploration is not a one-shot deal, but in Cuba due to many factors it is. Drilling is like playing once at a roulette wheel with $100 million chips,” said a diplomat whose country was involved in exploration.

Jorge Pinon, an expert on Cuban oil at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas in Austin, said, “They are shifting their focus and efforts to the known coastal reservoirs rather than on the unknown offshore deep-water reservoirs.”
Cuba’s heavy crude fields have a recovery factor of about 10 percent (10 barrels for every 100 barrels in a well), due to the viscosity of the crude and the porosity of the rock formations from which it is extracted, Pinon said.

“If successful, Cuba could increase its present recovery factor from 10 percent to maybe 17 to 20 percent adding an additional 12,000 to 15,000 barrels of new production if not more to their current level of approximately 50,000 barrels per day,” Pinon said.

Vice President and politburo member Marino Murillo told parliament in July that Cuba planned to invest $3.6 billion over the next 15 years in alternative energy, which is a priority for foreign investment. Murillo said 96 percent of energy generation came from oil and that the goal was to reduce that by 2030 to 76 percent, with the remainder coming from 19 bioelectricity plants attached to sugar mills, 13 wind parks and solar facilities. He did not mention deep-water oil exploration.

 

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Cuba: Wind Power vs. Oil

Isbel Díaz Torres, HAVANA TIMES (Havana), June 21, 2013

Original Essay Here: Cuba: Wind Power vs. Oil

It would seem that local newspapers are intent on misinforming the public – both at home and abroad – about the Cuban government’s priorities with respect to the development of alternative energy sources.

A case in point was the news surrounding the recently-concluded congress of the World Wind Energy Association and the Renewable Energy Exhibition (WWEC 2013), held in Havana at the beginning of this month.

During a press conference, the director of Cuba’s Center for the Study of Renewable Energy Technologies (CETER), Conrado Moreno, declared that Cuba plans on developing the infrastructure needed to generate at least 10 percent of its electricity with renewable sources by the year 2030.

In this connection, the official lauded “the great strides in the development of wind power technologies” that Cuba has made in recent years, adding that the country has “a program the world can learn from.”

However, thanks to this impressive wind power “program”, whose installed capacity was less than 0.5 Megawatts (MW) in 2005, the country barely produced 12 MW of electricity in 2010.

That Cuba should present the congress with such an out-of-date figure (a figure which, in addition, is anything but impressive, representing a mere 0.08 % of the country’s entire energy output) should raise some eyebrows.

This figure may help explain why it will take thirteen years for the country to be able to generate 10 % of its energy with wind power and the other renewable sources of energy used on the island.

The fact of the matter is that Cuba currently has 9,343 wind turbines, 15 turbines and 4 wind farms in operation, for an installed capacity of 11.7 MW, a figure which places it beneath 68 other countries around the world.

As a way of comparison, in 2010 Nicaragua had a generating capacity of 40 MW (the equivalent of 5 % of the country’s total installed capacity), garnered from wind power technologies alone, while Cuba currently generates a mere 4 % of its electricity via renewable energy sources in general.

Local optimism, however, isn’t dampened by any of this, and experts continue to extol the virtues of Cuba’s largest wind farm (with a capacity of 51 MW), whose construction on the northern coast of the island’s eastern province of Las Tunas, a place of allegedly “ideal” wind conditions, is expected to be completed next year.

It is estimated that the wind farm could generate some 153 GW/h a year, allowing the country to cut down its fossil fuel consumption by some 40 thousand tons a year.

Not without a number of altercations at different levels, the Cuban government has managed to secure the environmental licenses required for the project from the pertinent agencies rather quickly, giving technicians a mere week to collect the required data.

Wind power is an abundant, renewable and clean energy resource which can aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Cubans, however, have never received any in-depth information regarding its benefits and limitations, nor have we ultimately been consulted in connection with its implementation.

Boasting of a relatively high Energy Return Rate* (18.1:1), wind power is cursed by one, significant limitation: its intermittence, that is, the fact that wind currents are not constant.

According to experts, wind currents on Cuba’s northern coastline are not uniform and are heavily influenced by local conditions, resulting from the interaction of trade and local winds and seasonal meteorological events.

The contribution of biomass to Cuba’s energy production in the period 2000 to 2011. Figures in the equivalent of thousands of tons of oil.

Because of this, wind power can only ever supplement, never wholly replace, fossil fuel sources on the island, as the contribution of conventional energy sources is indispensible. In addition, as these conventional technologies operate in “backup mode” in this scheme, they consume a lot more fuel per KW produced every hour.

Fossil fuels are also consumed during the process of constructing the wind farm (during the mining of the materials, transportation and industrial processing) and all subsequent, indispensable maintenance operations.

Another inconvenient aspect of this technology is that winds must reach a certain, minimum velocity to be able to move the blades of the turbines. There is also a maximum wind velocity that, if exceeded, causes the entire network circuit to shut down.

In addition to the noise they produce and the disruption of the natural environment they represent, these wind farms reportedly affect the routes of migratory birds or the areas where these birds avail themselves of lateral winds, and the creation of access roads – and regular human presence, in general – damages local fauna.

The limitations of this technology, and the impact it has on the environment, ought not make us reject wind farms outright, but should, rather, make us re-think the way in which we have been implementing the technology and how congruous it is with the country’s global development strategy, as well as prompt us to demand accurate information in this regard.

Cuba has been working in the renewable energy field for decades without any type of legal regulations and without incurring any legal action from anyone. Recently, the director of CETER claimed that “a team of experts is working to implement it [the legal regulations] in a manner that suits Cuba’s economic development model.”

One of the more disquieting aspects of the wind power issue is how the Cuban media portray its state of development on the island, selling an image of a sustainable and ecological program, when, in fact, the country is heading down the more profitable road, caring little about its environmental impact.

Some statements we find in the press include: “In recent years, Cuba has made great progress in the development of wind power technologies.” / “Cuba has developed a wind power infrastructure (…) which only highly developed countries can boast of.” / “Cuba’s renewable energy program includes photovoltaic energy sources, which have experienced considerable development since the 1990s.” / “The ‘solarization’ of Cuba’s energy generating system.” / “The generation of electricity with renewable sources of energy will grow by 949 MW.”

As these grandiloquent reports on “green” energy sources are published, oil prospecting projects across Cuba’s platform continue in almost utter silence. This means that the government continues to invest heavily in this polluting energy source.

Cuban oil experts and government officials had anticipated that the country would be producing 90 % of its electricity with domestic oil reserves by 2010, but were unable to achieve this.

According to recent declarations made by Jorge Piñon, Associate Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program, Cuba could be producing as many as 250 thousand barrels of crude a day within five to seven years.

Enthusiastic Cuban government experts estimate that the Gulf of Mexico platform could contain as many as 20 billion barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Service estimate is considerably more modest, calculating reserve volumes there at 5 billion oil barrels.

To date, results have not been exactly promising. The “Scarabeo 9” platform had to pull out of the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone last year, following three unsuccessful attempts to find oil in the area.

To top things off, a few weeks ago, the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft decided to push back prospecting efforts to 2014, reporting “complications of a geological nature.”

These fiascos do little to burst the oil bubble of the Cuban government, which continues to spend millions in prospecting infrastructure.

Following the intensive modernization of the country’s thermoelectric plants ten years ago, Cuba is now working to expand its refinery in Cienfuegos, construct an oil duct connecting Cienfuegos and Matanzas, build a storage facility that can house 600 thousand oil barrels in Matanzas and complete the vast commercial port in Mariel (a billion dollar investment), and in many other related projects.

In the meantime, Venezuela continues to ship an average of 100 thousand barrels of oil to the island every day, 30 thousand of which are financed by PetroCaribe, as per a 25-year agreement with an interest rate of only 1 % signed with the island.

What will Cuba do in 2030, then, when it has the infrastructure to generate 10 % of its electricity using renewable energy sources? Will it have found the oil it seeks by then? Will it abandon the idea of using this oil for energy production? Will it sell it to the United States?

According to the most recent report issued by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA bureau responsible for analyzing and anticipating geopolitical and economic developments around the world, by 2030 the United States (the world’s largest importer of hydrocarbons today) will be entirely self-sufficient in terms of oil resources, and the world’s oil market could well collapse as a result of this.

We must acknowledge that hydrocarbons continue to be the world’s chief energy resource and that, like the rest of the world, Cuba does not have the infrastructure or programs needed to make the transition to a post-oil economy.

Many experts agree that the diversification and expansion of energy sources must become one of the pillars of Cuba’s future energy production scheme.

A broad range of alternative energy sources, from natural gas (the least polluting of all hydrocarbons) to renewable sources such as ethanol extracted from sugar cane, wind power, solar energy and bio-gas could be developed in Cuba.

That said, according to Cuba’s National Statistics Bureau, the amount of energy Cuba produced using renewable sources in 2011 was nearly 2 million tons less of oil equivalent than in 2001. This report reveals a marked decline in the use of these alternative energy sources in the course of the decade, a trend which coincides with the “oil enthusiasm” of recent years and the shutting down of numerous sugar refineries across the country.

The greatest drop was experienced in the use of biomass (chiefly sugar cane bagasse). Hydroelectric plants are the most widely used forms of primary energy production, while wind power generators occupy the fifth place among renewable energy technologies used on the island.

In recent years, experts in the field have voiced complaints that Cuba’s Electricity Law does not particularly encourage the use and commercial promotion of renewable energy sources.

The truth of the matter is that none of these sources of energy afford us one, magical solution to the problem of the energy deficit, and many of these technologies pose serious bioethical questions. If anything, they underscore the fact that the demands of contemporary society, engineered by global capitalism, are insatiable.

The policy of development at all costs, planned obsolescence, the alienation of individuals and collectives in productive processes, the outsourcing of production, the deification of consumption, policies which protect banks and international financial institutions, these and many other problems are at the root of the crisis faced by the energy sector and, I dare say, our civilization as a whole.

In the words of social anthropologist Emilio Santiago Muiño, “a sustainable system which is not grounded in marketing implies a profound change in lifestyle.”

Cuban economists and politicians do not appear to be equipped with the mentality needed to understand this. They are prey to the same ills mentioned above, and they are irresponsibly supported, in their policies, by a good part of Cuba’s scientific community, which does little to re-think the idea of “development” that prevails today.

At the recently-concluded world conference on wind power, Cuba sought to put together a business portfolio with a view to signing international agreements and broadening productive capacities in the sector.

This, which appears commendable, is congruous with the pragmatism of calculating analysts within and outside Cuba, who seek a painless reinsertion of the island’s economy in the international market.

*Energy Return Rate (ERR): Amount of primary energy that must be invested in order to produce energy with a given source.

Alternative energy source production in Cuba.

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Jorge Piñón: ¿Un futuro petrolero para Cuba?

Lenier Conzalez Mederos y Roberto Veiga Gonzalex entevistaron a Jorge Piñón , un cubanoamericano, que salió de la Isla como parte de la Operación Peter Pan, y tantos años después sigue hablando en primera persona cuando se refiere a Cuba. Se desempeñó como presidente para América Latina de la empresa petrolera AMOCO Oil, y  actualmente es investigador del Centro de Política Internacional en Energía y  Medioambiente de la Universidad de Austin (Texas). La entrevista tuvo lugar en el hotel  Meliá Habana, Cuba.

Here is the original interview:   Espacio Laical Entrevista a Jorge Pinon, June 2013

The original is at the web site of  Espacio Laical.

Camilo Cienfuegos Refinery

Jorge Piñón

 

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Cuban oil hopes sputter as Russians give up for now on well

By Jeff Franks

Original Here: Cuban Oil Hopes Sputter…

HAVANA, May 29 (Reuters) – Russian state-owned oil company Zarubezhneft said this week it was giving up for now on a problem-plagued exploration well off Cuba’s north-central coast, which brings to an end the communist-led island’s only active project in its search for offshore oil fields.

The news was not all bad because the company said it would return to the same spot next year. But it was another blow to Cuba’s hopes for energy independence, which have acquired new urgency with the March death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the communist-led island’s top ally and benefactor.

The Russians’ plan to drill 6,500 meters (21,325 feet) below the sea floor and hopefully find oil appears to have been derailed by the same issue that others have encountered in Cuban waters – difficult geology – as well as problems with its rig, the Songa Mercur, which at one point lost its blowout preventer.

The Songa Mercur Drilling Platform

“Taking into consideration geological complications, Zarubezhneft and (Cuban state oil company) Cubapetroleo have jointly decided to make changes in the initial drilling program by dividing it into two stages,” the company told Reuters this week.

“The second stage of exploration work on Block L is due to be launched in 2014,” it said, declining to comment further. The well, begun five months ago, was in shallow water about 200 miles (320 km) east of Havana, near the popular tourist destination Cayo Santa Maria.

The premature end of the Zarubezhneft well was not totally unexpected because Songa Offshore, owner of the Songa Mercur, earlier said the rig would leave by June 1 for a project in Southeast Asia. It had originally been scheduled to stay in Cuba until July 1.

There was a Russian press report that the rig would come back for another attempt by Zarubezhneft, but Songa Offshore Chairman Jens Wilhelmsen told Reuters the report was “completely without foundation.”

“We have not any agreement that Mercur will return and we have not received any inquiries from Zarubezhneft that they want it back,” he said. “So I can just deny that Mercur will return.”

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

All of which means that Cuba is back to square one in its quest to tap into fields off its northern coast that it says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6 billion barrels.

In the last year, Spain’s Repsol SA, Malaysia’s Petronas and Venezuela’s PDVSA sank wells in waters more than a mile deep off Cuba’s northern and western coasts. They all came up dry, and encountered a thick layer of dense rock difficult to drill through.

The Caribbean island’s hopes now lie with projects under consideration that may or may not come to fruition and are likely at least a year or more away if they do. Should oil be found, it would take another three to five years to put it into production, experts say.

Time is of the essence for Cuba because, under a generous deal made with Chavez, it gets 110,000 barrels per day, or two-thirds of its oil, from Venezuela in exchange for the services of more than 40,000 Cubans, most of them doctors and other medical personnel.

Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, vowed during a recent visit to Havana to keep the oil flowing, but he faces mounting economic problems and political pressure from opponents to stop shipping oil to Cuba.

Repsol, which also drilled an unsuccessful well in deep water near Havana in 2004, pulled out of Cuba, but some of the other oil partners are still around.

Petronas is continuing to conduct seismic studies in the four blocks it leases with Russian partner Gazprom and is considering another well, as is Venezuela’s PDVSA, which has four blocks at Cuba’s western tip, industry and diplomatic sources said.

A unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp, which had a share of the Repsol wells, has two offshore blocks of its own and has been looking for a partner to drill a well.

GARDENS OF THE QUEEN

In a development that is potentially both interesting and controversial, Norway’s Statoil ASA, which also partnered with Repsol, appears to be looking at possibilities on Cuba’s mostly unexplored Caribbean side.

A Cubapetroleo map on display at a recent geosciences conference in Havana indicated that as of last November, Cuba was in negotiations with the Norwegian oil giant to lease three large blocks along the central and southeastern coast, between the archipelago of the Gardens of the Queen and the coast in the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gulf of Guacanayabo.

Statoil does not comment on pending projects, but industry sources said it may just be sniffing around as it does all over the world looking for oil prospects and that its level of interest remains to be seen. The company has not mentioned Cuba in its drilling plans for the next two years.

It is likely also mindful of the sensitivity and potential dangers of drilling near the Garden of the Queens, which is regarded as one of the world’s most pristine coral reefs and whose preservation as such has become a cause for international environmental groups.

The same Cubapetroleo map showed that a Brazilian firm, Synergy Corp, was in negotiations for a near-shore block on Cuba’s north coast that state-owned Petrobras abandoned two years ago, citing poor prospects.

Attempts to reach Synergy for comment were unsuccessful.

A number of factors are working against Cuba’s oil hopes, among them the political and logistical difficulties imposed by the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island.

The embargo makes it difficult to find rigs that do not violate its limitations on the use of U.S. technology in Cuba and, according to experts, adds an estimated 20 percent to costs because everything in the project has to be shipped in from distant, non-U.S. sources.

There is also Cuba’s history of failed wells, which makes it hard to compete for the oil industry’s interest in a world where there are many other areas with proven oil reserves.

“It is very difficult today with other opportunities out there for a major oil company to justify going to Cuba and spending what will certainly be over $100 million in areas where it is yet to be proven they have recoverable reserves,” said Jorge Pinon, an expert on Cuban oil at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas in Austin.

“It is going to be extremely challenging (for Cuba),” he said.

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Cuba’s energy problem and oil in the Gulf of Mexico

By Ricardo Torres Perez, CEEC – University of Havana, December 20, 2012

from the Cuban Studies Group

Original Article here:   Torres, Cuba’s Energy Problem and Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

On-Shore Petroleum Extraction on the Bacuranao Oil Field between Matanzas and Varadero, Photo by Arch Ritter, 1996,

Cuba has historically suffered from an acute dependence on foreign sources to meet its  energy needs. Until now, the island has had a small supply of conventional energy resources such as oil1, gas and coal, key sources in the current energy model. During the last century, and for different reasons, the country concentrated its oil imports in two major contemporary economic and military powers, the U.S.  and the extinct Soviet Union. The analysis of the evolution of this dependence is essential to explain the possibilities of development for the country. Therefore, any event with the power to mitigate this  constraint has sizeble economic and geopolitical significance for the Caribbean nation.
After 1959, the Soviet Union became the quintessential foreign supplier. Preferential  supply conditions notably eased the pressures of the road towards diversified energy and greater weight for domestic sources, although there was a breakthrough in energy production from sugarcane biomass, logical result of the growth in volumes of sugarcane.

Twenty-two years ago, that model was in crisis. The country was forced to severely restrict consumption between 1990 and 1995, which was only partially relaxed to the extent that the economy left this critical period in the early nineties. The symbol par
excellence was the blackout, an extreme measure used frequently in exceptional circumstances. One of the immediate responses to alleviate the situation was the decision to double efforts to increase domestic oil production. That attempt was made feasible by the participation of foreign companies, under a scheme of risk contracts. The results have been very good, increasing output by nearly six times in the period. Progress was also made in the use of natural gas, which plays a major role in the generation of electricity2 and the supply of fuel for cooking in the capital of the country. In both examples, the role of foreign investment has been crucial.

Petroleum Exploration Concessions

Author: Ricardo Torres, CEEC Universidad de La Habana

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Cuba oil dreams on hold as drill rig set to depart

By Peter Orsi,  November 13, 2012; Associated Press,

Original Article here:  Cuba oil dreams on hold

Scarabeo 9

The only rig in existence that can drill in deep waters off Cuba is preparing to sail away from the island, officials said Tuesday, after the third exploratory well sunk this year proved nonviable in a blow to government hopes of an oil bonanza.

While production was always years off even in the event of a big discovery, analysts said the Scarabeo-9’s imminent departure means Havana’s dreams of injecting petrodollars into a struggling economy will be on hold indefinitely.

“Bottom line: This chapter is finished. Close the book, put it on the shelf,” said Jorge Pinon, a Latin America oil expert at the University of Texas’ Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. “But do not discard. Maybe there is a good ending to this story … someday.”

Geological surveys indicate that between 5 billion and 9 billion barrels of oil may lie in deep waters off Cuban shores, but finding it has turned out to be trickier than officials hoped.

The Scarabeo-9, a 380-foot-long (115-meter), semisubmersible behemoth that leases out for prices approaching a half-million dollars a day, steamed all the way from Asia at tremendous cost to arrive in Cuba in January. That was the only way companies could avoid sanctions under Washington’s 50-year-old embargo against Cuba. The Scarabeo is the only rig of its kind built with less than 10 percent American parts — an extreme rarity in an industry where U.S. technologies play a major role.

An exploratory well sunk early this year by Spanish company Repsol turned out to be commercially nonviable. After Repsol declined an option to try again, the Scarabeo passed to a group led by Malaysia’s Petronas, which drilled its own dud. Cuban officials announced Nov. 2 that Venezuela’s PDVSA had also missed the mark.

For this baseball-mad nation, it was strike three. Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industry, which oversees oil matters, confirmed Tuesday that the rig is on its way out, with no word on when it might return.

“The Scarabeo-9 will leave Cuba soon,” it said in a brief statement emailed to The Associated Press.

It referred questions about the platform’s destination to owner Saipem of Italy. Saipem’s parent company Eni declined to comment, but various reports have had it bound for Africa or Brazil.

Oil’s existence off Cuba is not in doubt. Russian company Zarubezhneft is contracted to use a different rig to drill in shallower waters off Cayo Coco, a key Cuban tourist destination, later this month. But the more promising deposits lie in the deep waters of the west.

The only way to get at them is to bring back the Scarabeo or build an entirely new rig, and the three failed holes plus the ongoing hassle of avoiding sanctions from the U.S. embargo will likely make companies think twice.

Pinon noted that the Repsol and Petronas wells were not dry holes, only that exploiting the oil there was not currently commercially viable due to the structure of the ocean floor and the porosity of the rock.

“If oil continues at over $100 and if the industry continues to learn and develop new technologies, they could probably come back to Cuba … and go for a second round,” he said.

Cuban drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had raised fears in the United States that a big spill could slick U.S. shores from the Keys to the Carolinas. It also attracted heated criticism from anti-Castro exiles in Florida’s Cuban-American community.

“The (U.S.) administration must finally wake up and see the truth that an oil rich Castro regime is not in our interests,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a recent statement.

Some cited Cuban oil exploration to argue for strengthening the embargo, which bans U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba and threatens sanctions against foreign firms if they don’t play by its rules. Others said it demonstrated the opposite: a need to ease the embargo so U.S. companies could more smoothly participate in disaster response to any spill.

Cuba has long campaigned for an end to the embargo, which remains in place despite 21 consecutive U.N. votes against it — most recently on Tuesday when the world’s nations voted 188-3 to condemn the sanctions.

Off-Shore Petroleum Exploration Concessions

On-Shore Petroleum Extraction Rigs, Matanzas, 1996, Photo by Arch Ritter

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Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), “Bridging the Gulf: Finding Common Ground on Environmental and Safety Preparedness for Offshore Oil and Gas in Cuba

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

 

Executive Summary

 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.

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Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment

By Arch Ritter

Below is a Power Point Presentation made at the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012.

The full presentation can be found here: CUNY Bildner Presention, Arch Ritter on Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects….”, May 21 2012

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Russians Commence Petroleum Exploration off the Cuban Coast

Nick Miroff,  June 28, 2012;  from Globalpost.com

The Songa Mercur Drilling Platform

HAVANA, Cuba — For 30 years, generous oil subsidies from Moscow kept the lights on for Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution. Until the Soviet Union went kaput. Now, Russian state oil companies may be coming to Cuba’s rescue again.

Oil industry journals reported this week that a Soviet-built, Norwegian-owned drilling platform is headed for Cuban waters this summer, under contract with Moscow-based state company Zarubezhneft. The company has hired the rig, called the Songa Mercur, at a cost of $88 million for nearly a year, with plans to begin drilling in November. That should be enough time to poke plenty of holes in search of Cuba’s elusive undersea oil fields, which are thought to hold billions of barrels of crude but have yet to yield a decent strike.

The rig’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time for the Castro government and its state oil company, CubaPetroleo. The state firm has signed multiple contracts in recent years with foreign producers looking to drill in Cuban waters.

Another drilling platform, the Scarabeo 9, has been working off the island’s north coast this year, but has come up dry, dealing a blow to Havana’s hopes for weaning the island off imported crude.

Cuba currently gets about two-thirds of its fuel from socialist ally Hugo Chavez. But the Venezuelan president has been battling cancer and must campaign for re-election in October.

The Scarabeo 9 has been Cuba’s best hope. The Chinese-built, Italian-owned rig arrived late last year, opening a gusher of anxieties in the US. Environmental groups and Florida tourism operators worried about damage from a potential spill. Anti-Castro lawmakers worried an oil strike would give the Cuban government a cash windfall. Repsol, the Spanish oil company that first hired the rig, was the subject of hearings on Capitol Hill, and the Obama administration made the unusual move of sending an inspection team to visit the platform when it stopped in Trinidad en route to Cuban waters. But the state-of-the-art Scarabeo 9 was made for the Cuba job — literally. It is the only rig in the world designed specifically to comply with US trade sanctions against Cuba, which limit the amount of US technology that can be used in Cuban territory to no more than 10 percent.

So far the rig has come up empty in Cubans waters. Having spent more than $100 million for a dry well and a political headache, Repsol executives have announced they’re pulling out of Cuba.

Scarabeo 9 is now in the hands of Russia’s Gazprom Neft, which is drilling in Cuban waters at another offshore location in partnership with Malaysia’s Petronas. Results may be announced as soon as next month.

The Songa Mercur will be working much closer to shore. Built in 1989 at the Soviet Union’s Vybord Shipyards, its maximum drilling depth is just 1,200 feet of water, according to the rig’s specifications.

Jorge Piñon, an expert on Cuban oil exploration at the University of Texas, said the Songa Mercur was retrofitted and modernized in 2006 in Galveston, Texas, after it was purchased from a Mexican firm by Norway’s Songa Offshore SE. It’s currently working in Malaysia.

Unlike the Scarabeo 9, the Songa Mercur is loaded with US technology, including five Caterpillar generators, General Electric mud pump motors, and cementing equipment made by Halliburton. That will likely leave Russian operator Zarubezhneft in violation of the US’ Cuba sanctions, Piñon said.

Not that there’s much the US government can do about it. “This is a Russian state oil company, and they do not have US assets or interests to safeguard,” said Piñon, a former British Petroleum executive. “Do you think that Zarubezhneft is going to invite the US Coast Guard and the Interior Department to board (the Songa Mercur)?” he said. “How then is [the US] going to validate whether the Songa Mercur meets the embargo regulations?” The area where the platform will be drilling is off the coast of Cuba’s Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara provinces, and adjacent to an area that the Bahamas Petroleum Corporation is also looking to develop, Piñon added.

That location should present less of a threat to US beaches in the event of a spill, according to Lee Hunt, former president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors. Shallow water does not eliminate the risk, Hunt said, but ocean currents in that area would likely keep floating crude away from US shores. “What has not changed is the need for blowout prevention,” said Hunt, who advocates closer cooperation between the US and Cuba on oil spill prevention. “The best and safest practices, and preparation for spill capping, capture, containment and cleanup remain risk factors for Cuba and the United States.”

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