Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 2, 2012

Cuban oil drilling: preparedness with both hand tied behind our backs

Filed under: Catastrophes,International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on March 2, 2012

Have you ever done something in a particular way for so long that you just can’t imagine changing your habits?  Even if new developments in your life suggest that maybe it’s time for a change?

Well….Cuba is opening up it’s waters for oil drilling, we don’t talk or do business with Cuba, and in light of the BP oil spill some people are rightly getting pretty nervous.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday:

As energy companies from Spain, Russia and Malaysia line up to drill for oil in Cuban waters 60 miles from the Florida Keys, U.S. agencies are struggling to cobble together emergency plans to protect fragile reefs, sandy beaches and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry in the event of a spill.

Drawing up contingency plans to confront a possible spill is much more difficult because of the economic embargo against Cuba. U.S. law bars most American companies — including oil services and spill containment contractors — from conducting business with the communist island. The embargo, now entering its 50th year, also limits direct government-to-government talks.

As one oil industry executive put it:

“This is a case of Cold War ideology colliding with 21st-century environmental policy, and it is the environment that is at risk,” said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

To put it in a bit of monetary perspective:

The Deepwater Horizon liabilities could exceed $43 billion. Containing the oil in Louisiana employed 5,000 vessels. Cuba’s total gross domestic product is $50 billion. Pinon said that Cuba, with a tiny navy and a thin coast guard, has only 5 percent of the resources needed to contain a spill approaching the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“The U.S. Coast Guard is terrified,” he said.

The company first on (in?) the ground is Repsol, an apparently well respected Spanish firm. As former DHS Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem puts it (who, by the way, was all over this story last October):

Hopefully, the 2010 BP oil spill has terrified the industry enough that sheer self-preservation will make oil drillers ultra-cautious. Repsol, for its part, is a publicly traded powerhouse, with operations in 29 countries. But so, of course, was BP.

Other than the Coast Guard, Juliette sees others “worried” about these developments:

The real story here is how little these developments seem to matter to our lawmakers. The usual anti-Cuba congressional contingent, many from Florida, wrote a letter to the president of Repsol, expressing their serious concern with Repsol’s plans to “partner’’ with the “Castro regime.’’ The operations will provide “direct financial benefit to the Castro dictatorship.’’

Surely, that can’t be right?  A sovereign country has the right to drill for oil in waters internationally recognized to be it’s own, correct?  The important thing in this case would be to ensure that the best companies are unimpeded in their work and that contingencies are worked out in advance?  Back to the Post:

“This is a disaster waiting to happen, and the Obama administration has abdicated its role in protecting our environment and national security by allowing this plan to move forward,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ros-Lehtinen and her colleagues sponsored legislation to deny visas to anyone who helps the Cubans advance their oil drilling plans. They have also sought to punish Repsol.

“We need to figure out what we can do to inflict maximum pain, maximum punishment, to bleed Repsol of whatever resources they may have if there’s a potential for a spill that would affect the U.S. coast,” Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) told in January a congressional subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Coast Guard.

Well so much for that reasoning. Thankfully, overcoming obstacles through creative diplomacy, some preparedness work is being accomplished:

Because of the embargo, the talks between Cubans, Repsol and the Coast Guard are taking place in the Bahamas and Curacao — not Havana or Miami — under the auspices of the U.N. International Maritime Organization, paid for by charitable donations from environmental groups and oil industry associations.

It seems to me that the U.S. has been trying to get rid of the Castros since President Eisenhower.  How has that worked out?  Perhaps it is time to let bygones be bygones and concentrate on the real threats to our safety and security.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 3, 2012 @ 5:56 am

So although no WMD we should invade CUBER?

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