Repsol to comply with U.S. standards in Cuba drilling

Spanish oil company Repsol YPF agreed to use U.S. standards in Cuban offshore drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in conference call from Spain with reporters.

Repsol “has volunteered to comply with all United States regulations while drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” Salazar said in the phone conference. “That is an offer they have made.”

Repsol YPF expects the arrival of a Chinese-made platform by September to begin exploratory deepwater drilling in Cuba, near the U.S. maritime border.

Salazar met with Nemesio Fernández Cuesta, Repsol’s general director of exploration, at a hotel in Madrid as part of an effort to “engage industry and the international community in a dialogue on safe and responsible offshore oil and gas development,” a Department of Interior press release said, without mentioning Cuba.

“There will be no problem whatsoever operating in Cuba, as long as we comply with embargo regulations,” Fernández told Spanish newspaper El Economista after the meeting. 

U.S. officials also had a work lunch with Industry Minister Miguel Sebastián Gascón Friday.

A high-profile U.S. delegation was in Madrid Friday, in part to express concern to the Spanish government over planned drilling in Cuban waters by a Spanish oil company. The delegation includes Salazar, Undersecretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez, and Deborah McCarthy, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for economic and energy affairs.

Repsol not only showed him how their processes in Cuba match U.S. regulations, but offered on-site visits.

“They have volunteered to have the rig inspected by U.S. authorities, by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement,” Salazar added.

Although U.S. inspections in Cuban waters is a delicate issue in Havana, the Cuban government has not reacted publicly to Salazar’s statement.

“Cuba is silent in all this, but I can’t imagine Repsol making such an offer without the Cubans approving,” said Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst with the Lexington Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington.

He did not raise the issue of stopping drilling Cuba altogether, Salazar answered a reporter’s question, adding that Cuba was only a small part of his conversation with Repsol executives.

The Florida delegation in the U.S. Congress has urged the government to take steps with Spain; in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 20, Sen. Bill Nelson suggested U.S. officials tell their Spanish peers that “by partnering with Cuba, Repsol is acting contrary to U.S. interests in the hemisphere.”

A Nelson aide told the Key West Keynoter that the senator was trying to buy time, speculating that the U.S. government might be able to delay oil drilling until Spanish elections early next year that could result in a conservative government more hostile towards Cuba.

Bahamas is also planning to begin offshore drilling soon. Although Norway’s Statoil is expected to receive a platform in 2012 for exploratory drilling in Bahamian waters, near the maritime border with Cuba and upstream from Florida’s Atlantic beaches, Florida politicians have not expressed concern.

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