Cuba's Oil Hunt Raises Questions for U.S.

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"Drilling at BP-reminiscent depths will be done 60 miles off Florida's coast."

NPR, Nick Miroff

Cuba's offshore oilIn the deep waters off Cuba's north coast, a Chinese-built oil rig is due to begin drilling this fall in an area geologists believe may have huge beds of undersea crude.

A significant find could transform Cuba's economy and possibly alter relations with the U.S., but it may also present new environmental threats for the Florida coast.

Mariel—the town 30 miles west of Havana that was a departure point for more than 100,000 Cubans who left the island in the 1980 Mariel boatlift—is being remade into a servicing hub for the Cuban oil industry of the future. Crews are working furiously to finish new port facilities and a railway with hundreds of millions in Brazilian financing.

This fall, Repsol plans to start drilling five exploratory wells in Cuban-controlled waters at depths up to 5,000 feet—about as far down as BP's Deepwater Horizon rig.

A USGS study estimates there are nearly 5 billion barrels of oil in the bedrock off Cuba's north coast, enough to make the island a major energy player in the region. Cuba's own geological studies show several times that amount.

The drilling will happen just 60 miles off the Florida coast.

At a U.S. government conference on safe drilling practices last month in Washington, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called Cuba's exploration plans "an issue of concern" that the Obama administration is watching closely. But Cuba was not among the dozen or so countries invited to the conference.

Cuban Economist Ricardo Torres says that thousands of jobs could be created . . .even if it takes several years to bring the oil to market, new credit lines will open up for Cuba's cash-strapped government, he says.

What's less clear is the impact a major discovery might have on the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo.

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