Cuba closing another chapter in offshore drilling saga

An exploratory drill off the western tip of Cuba failed to “offer possibilities of commercial exploitation,” said a terse note in official daily Granma Nov. 2.

The drill, under contract of Venezuelan state oil company PdVSA, concluded Oct. 26, eight days before the note was published.

This was the last of three drills around the island this year by the the made-for-Cuba Scarabeo 9 platform before it is scheduled to leave Cuban waters. According to industry sources quoted by Reuters, owner Saipem S.p.A. is preparing to transfer the rig to West Africa later this month.

Geologists believe there are 20 billion barrels of oil under the sea floor in Cuban waters.

However, because of U.S. embargo restrictions on the use of U.S. components and a general scarcity of drilling rigs, the failure to strike oil this time will likely prevent any deepwater drilling around Cuba for the next few years. Also, Spanish oil company Repsol, the most active offshore player in Cuba in recent years, pulled out after failing to strike oil in an attempt earlier this year.

Even so, according to the “nota informativa” signed by state oil company CubaPetróleo, PdVSA will continue to search for offshore oil in Cuba.

“Although this well doesn’t offer any possibilities of commercial exploitation, the results obtained in the exploration will allow directing and broadening operations in the [PdVSA] blocks in the Economic Exclusive Zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” the note said. “The technical experience and the valuable geological information obtained have contributed to reaffirming the decision by PdVSA to continue its participation in the exploratory campaign in Cuban waters.”

Also, Malaysian state oil company Petronas, which used Scarabeo 9 in a previous drill nearby, will conduct more seismic studies, CubaPetróleo said in August. Petrovietnam, which has leased three blocks off western Cuba, said it would wait for the results of nearby drills before taking a decision on drilling. Indian oil company ONGC Videsh is still looking for partners in its two blocks to share the high cost of ultra deep water drilling.

In the meantime, Russian oil company Zarubezhneft chartered a Norwegian shallow-water platform for several drills over a period of almost one year. The semi-submersible Songa Mercur, owned by Oslo-based Songa Offshore AS, is on standby in Trinidad until Zarubezhneft begins its drilling campaign late this month.

The shallow-water rig, built in in a Soviet shipyard in 1989 and updated in Galveston, Texas, in 2007, can drill in depths of up to 1,200 feet. In contrast, Scarabeo 9 can drill in depths of up to 12,000 feet.

Zarubezhneft contracted four onshore and near-shore blocks in west-central Cuba in 2009.

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