Latin America: Cuba Begins Oil Drilling 40 Miles Off U.S. Shores

The Need for Critical Dialogue Between U.S. and Cuba with the Emergence of its First Drilling Project

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In six weeks, Cuba is planning implementation of an exploratory drilling project about 50 miles up-current from South Florida.

Due to the potential threat of an oil spill, both Cuba and the U.S., as well as other countries in the Gulf of Mexico whose coastline and marine habitats can be affected by a spill, need to be in constant litigation and dialogue, Daniel Whittle, Cuba Program Director of the Environmental Defense Fund, told a group of journalists at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami on Saturday morning.

There is an urgent need to come up with a plan to manage a high risk event if it were to occur in order to avoid an incident like the 2010 BP oil spill, he added.

“This event should generate game changes in U.S. and Cuba relationship since it is in both country’s best interest to foster a better relationship in order to protect the marine and coastal environments,” Whittle explained.

The topic discussed thus raises both economic and environmental issues, stated Jorge Piñón, oil and gas expert and visiting research fellow at Florida International University.

John Proni

On one hand, the execution of a successful rig will be economically beneficial to Cuba. Piñón said the successful achievement of this exploratory drilling project will provide about the exact amount of barrels needed for Cuba to sustain itself.

Due to its value to the Cuban economy, top-of-the-line equipment is being used to construct the rig. Further, strict regulations are being implemented to avoid a high risk incident.

However, as John Proni, executive director of the Applied Research Center at the Florida International University, construction of the exploratory rig raises air, water and habitat impacts.

Apart from the threats that can be raised as a result of an oil spill, the drilling project’s implementation can release drilling fuels that produce local impacts on Cuban reefs as well as distant impacts when these fuels reach the Gulf Stream and travel towards U.S. coral reef habitats in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The drilling project’s potential threats to both nations, regardless of its profit, creates the perfect conditions to encourage critical dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba.

The circumstances for an environmental bridge and diplomacy are reflected in the Cuba drilling case. There has been precedent for constructive engagement and this could possibly be another example, said David Guggenheim, senior fellow in the Ocean Foundation.


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