Cuba announces start of more offshore drilling

In the next few days, a Norwegian-owned platform will begin drilling off North-Central Cuba, state oil company CubaPetróleo (Cupet) announced in a note published by official daily Granma Dec. 15.

According to Russian officials, the semi-submersible has been in Cuban waters since mid-November.

The Songa Mercur, a shallow-water platform, will perform drills for Zarubezhneft apparently in one of four blocks leased by the Russian state oil company near some of Cuba’s most popular beach resorts through the next six months. It will begin with exploratory well L-01X, Cupet said, without giving its location. The well, according to Cupet, will be 6,500 meters (21,300 feet) deep.

Songa Offshore AS, the Oslo-based company that owns the platform, announced earlier this year that the Songa Mercur was chartered by Zarubezhneft for 325 days.  The company said earlier it will be drilling in block L (see map), the easternmost of four blocks Zarubezhneft leased in 2009. Block L is located off the keys of Villa Clara province, near Cayo Santa María, a new beach tourism destination Cuba has been developing over the past 10 years.

“The new well has the objective to determine the oil and gas potential of that sector in our country,” the Cupet note said. “Its results must contribute to the knowledge of the area where it will be drilled, as well as all of North-Central Cuba.”

The platform was inspected by Cuban officials to ensure the safety of operations, Cupet said. In addition, ModuSpec, a Netherlands-based company, inspected the Songa Mercur to confirm that less than 10 percent of the platform’s content includes U.S. parts. U.S. embargo regulations impose penalties on companies that do not comply with this restriction.

Zarubezhneft will spend close to $126 million on near-shore exploration, a Russian official said during a visit to the island in November. The Songa Mercur, a Soviet-built and Norwegian-owned semi-submersible, arrived Nov. 15 in Cuban waters from Trinidad & Tobago, Russian Comptroller Sergei Stepashin said, according to Russian news service In November, a delegation of Russian and Cuban officials, including Stepashin, Zarubezhneft CEO Nikolay Brunich, and Russia’s ambassador to Havana, Mikhail Kamyshin, toured the platform.

The first exploration results, according to Stepashin, will be announced in May.

Zarubezhneft’s exploration follows three failed offshore attempts this year by the Scarabeo 9 platform. The Songa Mercur is a shallow-water rig, built in a Soviet shipyard in 1989 and updated in Galveston, Texas, in 2007, with a capacity to drill in depths of up to 1,200 feet. In contrast, the Scarabeo 9, used by Repsol, Petronas and PdVSA in Cuba, can drill in depths up to 12,000 feet; the Scarabeo was custom-built in China and Singapore with minimal U.S. content, to comply with U.S. sanctions.

Zarubezhneft subsidiary JSC RMNTK Nefteotdacha has also begun onshore prospecting in the Boca de Jaruco area near Havana and expects to begin drilling in March or April. Last year, the Russian oil company signed an agreement with CubaPetróleo about the use of experimental technology to maximize production in the mature oil field. If the technology is successful, Zarubezhneft and CubaPetróleo will expand their cooperation.

The Songa Mercur, leaving the Port of Galveston, Texas in 2007

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