Cuba needs U.S. equipment to guard against oil spills, Tampa panel hears
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Friday, November 4, 2016 6:00am
TAMPA — To protect Florida from oil spills, drilling is prohibited under
a federal moratorium within the state's Gulf of Mexico maritime borders.
So why is the United States standing aside as Cuba considers drilling
for oil as close as 45 miles from Key West — using equipment considered
second rate at best?
The question was taken up Thursday by U.S. military leaders,
environmentalists and drilling consultants during a panel discussion in
Tampa on the challenges of responding to oil spills in the Caribbean region.
"The U.S. oil field products are simply the most technologically
advanced," panelist Lee Hunt, an oil drilling consultant, told the audience.
But Cuba can't get its hands on that equipment under a U.S. rule
restricting the transfer to the island nation of any equipment
containing more than 25 percent of U.S. content. Such a deal requires a
specific Treasury Department exemption from the rule.
The rule covers oil drilling rigs. Even foreign countries that might
sell U.S.-made equipment to Cuba refrain from doing so to stay on the
good side of a major trading partner.
Drilling with anything second rate increases the possibility of an
accident, so perhaps all oil drilling equipment should be exempt from
the 25 percent rule, Hunt told the Tampa Bay Times.
Past oil exploration in Cuban waters has come up dry but the Cuban
government has reiterated its intention to try again, perhaps as early
as late 2017.
"Cuba is within its complete legitimate national right to drill," Hunt
told the audience at the Tampa Convention Center during the Clean Gulf
Conference, which focuses on oil spill prevention, preparedness and
An overview of Cuba's oil spill prevention and response plan was
presented during the panel discussion by Raul Rubén Costa Gravalosa, the
island nation's chief of natural and technological disasters mitigation.
Cuba's program is "quite robust," Hunt said, and on par with the United
States' own protocols. Still, Cuba lacks access to the resources needed
to contain a major spill.
"It makes a whole lot of sense to put a cork on a bottle as fast as you
can," said Douglas Derr, strategic business manager with Houston-based
oil well-control company Boots & Coots.
"We cannot help if our government does not allow us to. We have talked
to Cuban officials and they are interested in our services. Now we just
need the U.S. to open the door."
A bilateral accord being negotiated between the United States and Cuban
governments would enable them to work together if an oil spill in one
nation's waters threatens the other's.
Asked by the Times when it might be finalized, Cuba's Gravalosa had no
Panel moderator Forest Willis, incident manager for the U.S. Coast Guard
in Miami, would say only that it's being worked on.
"It will get done," Hunt told the Times. "It's best for Cuba and it's
best for the U.S. if we work together."
Contact Paul Guzzo at email@example.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow
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