Russian offshore drilling to end earlier than anticipated

Zarubezhneft is drilling in Block L, off Cayo Santa María

The shallow-water drilling platform used by Russian oil company OAO Zarubezhneft will leave Cuban waters June 1, to be redeployed to Asia, the company that owns the rig said.

The exploratory campaign of the Songa Mercur platform in Cuba ends June 1, “and the rig will thereafter be demobilized back to Asia where the rig is actively marketed,” Oslo-based Songa Offshore AS said in an April 4 update of its fleet performance.

The pullout of the Songa Mercur comes earlier than previously announced. The Soviet-built and Norwegian-owned semi-submersible was originally chartered by Zarubezhneft for 325 days, according to a Songa press release last year. Given the rig’s arrival Nov. 15 in Cuban waters, the charter would have expired sometime in fall 2013.

The pullout will effectively end all offshore exploratory drilling in Cuba, for now. A Zarubezhneft executive said last year the company expected to make an announcement about the results of the drilling in May.

The Songa report also said that the platform was idled in early April, due to technical problems with a crucial safety device. “The rig is currently in process of pulling its [blowout preventer] for evaluation of shear ram malfunctions and technical inspection of connector bolts in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions,” the April 4 report said. In March, the Songa Mercur achieved an operating efficiency of 99 percent in its drill for Zarubezhneft, the report said.

There are “concerns in Cuba that [Zarubezhneft] won’t have time” to drill deep enough by the pullout deadline in June, Simon Potter, a British oil executive, whose Bahamas Petroleum Co. plans to drill just 12 miles north of Songa Mercur’s location, told Bloomberg News April 18. Zarubezhneft officials did not return requests for information from Cuba Standard.

Zarubezhneft expected to spend close to $126 million on the near-shore exploration off north-central Cuba. The Russian state company chartered the semi-submersible to drill in Block L, the easternmost of four blocks the company 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 shallow-water rig, built in a Soviet shipyard in 1989 and updated in Galveston, Texas, in 2007, can drill in depths of up to 1,200 feet.

“We hope that in a fourth intent, following three failed ones, we will see ‘big oil’,” Sergei Stepashin, comptroller general of Russia, said during a visit to Havana last fall, referring to unsuccessful exploratory deep-water drilling in 2012 by the Scarabeo 9 platform. “This would be of enormous help to the Cuban economy and a step ahead in our relations, as well as a response to the defenders of the [U.S. embargo].”

Zarubezhneft’s confidence was based on prospecting done by Zarubezhneft’s Soviet predecessor company, Stepashin said at the time.

In February, Zarubezhneft General Director Sergey Kudryashov met in Havana with Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas and the acting General Director of state oil company Cupet, Juan Torres Naranjo, and flew to the platform by helicopter.

Zarubezhneft CEO Kudryashov (center) listens to experts on the Songa Mercur
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