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Cuba Hoping To Kickstart Offshore Oil & Gas Industry

The Cuban oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet, is close to a deal with Angola’s state-run Sonangol to get Cuba’s deepwater energy exploration program up and running three years after work was suspended because of failure to find any oil or gas.

A Cupet official told the British energy news service Argus Media that the two companies expect to begin operations next year on two of four areas of the Gulf of Mexico off the Cuban coast based on an agreement between Cupet and Sonangol signed in 2010. Cuba’s program of deepwater exploration was suspended after several foreign companies’ drilling efforts proved fruitless.

Those companies included Malaysia’s Petronas, Russia’s Gazprom Neft, Spain’s Repsol and Venezuela’s PdV.

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That work had been done with a drilling rig, called Scarabeo 9, which was built in China for the Italian contractor Sapiem, a subsidiary of Eni. Less than 10 percent of the rig’s components were built in the United States, satisfying the criteria of Washington’s embargo on Western companies doing business with Cuba, imposed in 1962.

The bulk of the Cupet-Sonangol deal was closed during a series of meetings last week in the Angolan capital of Luanda during a visit by Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, the Cupet official told Argus Media. All that is left to be decided is “which of the blocks contracted by Sonangol will be drilled, the sourcing of a rig and the timing of the start of work,” the official said.

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Ruiz told Angolan state media, however, that production could begin as early as next year. “The first hole would be ready for production between 2016 and 2017, depending on the location of the platform,” he said after meeting with Sonangol CEO Francisco Lemos Maria.

Cuba is in the process of opening up its economy to foreign investment, a process that could accelerate following the recent thaw in relations between Havana and Washington. On July 20, the two countries reopened their embassies, but the U.S. embargo remains in place for now.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which recently examined the potential for Cuba’s offshore energy reserves, reported an estimated 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of gas. About 75 percent of that is situated within 50 miles of Cuba’s coast.

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Before the embargo, U.S. companies had stakes in several Cuban oil refineries, but today such companies are showing little interest in investing in the island’s energy industry, despite invitations from Havana, the Cupet official said.

“We want to ensure all is in place for interested companies if and when the United States lifts its damaging economic embargo on our country.”

It may take months if not years to reach any agreement to lift the U.S. embargo because, despite the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington, the two governments still are at odds on many issues, including whether the United States should return its naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuban control.

“It is important we continue to fight for the lifting of the trade embargo and financial restrictions,” Ruiz said.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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