Massive offshore rig arrives in Cuba

The new rig, known as Scarabeo 9, is a semi-submersible rig on four pontoon legs with living quarters for more than 200 crewmembers. Built almost entirely in China and owned by Saipem, a division of Italy’s Eni S.p.A., Scarabeo 9 will be used to conduct the first major exploration of Cuba's potential offshore petroleum resources.

The rig’s arrival reportedly went mostly unnoticed in Havana, the nation’s capital and the closest city to the rig’s destination. The island nation’s chronic economic struggle, exacerbated by the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo against it, are made worse by its dependence on 115,000 barrels of oil a day from its ally Venezuela.

With the new Scarabeo 9 rig, Cuba hopes to move towards energy independence and even boost its economy with petroleum exports. Even though the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that there are 5 billion barrels of oil in Cuba’s parts of the Gulf of Mexico, Cuban authorities say they may have as much as 20 billion barrels.

In Cuba’s neighbor the United States, the arrival of the Scarabeo 9 rig in Cuban waters has become a source of controversy, as the memory of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster still resonates and its effects remain visible. A spill at Scarabeo 9 would be only 70 miles from the Florida Keys, compared to the 40 miles between Deepwater Horizon and Louisiana, and at a similar water depth, over a mile deep.

Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF is to begin operations next week, drilling at least two wells in partnership with an international group of oil companies, including Norway’s Statoil and India’s ONGC Videsh. Malaysia’s Petronas will be using the same rig to drill a well in collaboration with Russia’s Gazprom Neft.

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