WASHINGTON — US safety inspectors say an oil platform managed by the Spanish company Repsol for the Cuban government meets their safety standards.
The Cuban government plans to use the platform to drill for oil deep in Gulf of Mexico waters, off the coasts of Trinidad and Tobago.
Safety inspectors who checked the platform Scarabeo 9 "found the vessel to generally comply with existing international and US standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide," the US Interior Department said in a statement dated Monday and sent to AFP.
The inspectors were invited by Repsol to examine the platform but "their review does not confer any form of certification or endorsement under US or international law," the statement says.
Neither Cuba or Repsol are required to follow US recommendations, the Interior Department said.
Representatives from the United States and Cuba participated in an emergency preparedness seminar in the Bahamas recently along with officials from other countries that have interests in the Gulf of Mexico. They exchanged information on how to handle a disaster in the Gulf.
The United States has a large oil industry presence in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, which was the site of the devastating 2010 oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in US history.
US Coast Guard personnel based in Florida are updating their contingency plans in case of another oil platform accident, the Interior Department said.
The Repsol platform safety inspection fulfills an agreement US officials reached with the Cuban government last year.
US Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Salerno told a House Natural Resources Committee in November that the inspection was "consensual," but noted there was no mechanism to compel them to allow the visit.
Daniel Whittle of the non-governmental Environmental Defense Fund told the panel that the Cubans plan to drill as many as six exploratory wells by 2013.
"We had frank and open discussions and Cuban officials acknowledged the challenges associated with building an offshore oil and gas industry from scratch," he said.
"They repeated their pledge to follow the highest international environmental and safety standards and expressed a strong willingness to cooperate with the United States and other countries in the region on all aspects of environmental protection and safety matters."
Cuba has long been plagued by energy dependence, its economic Achilles heel.
The Americas' lone one-party Communist state used to depend on the Soviet bloc for cut-rate oil and plunged into economic chaos and blackouts when it was cut off after 1989.
Now Cuba depends on Venezuela -- its vital economic and political ally -- for most of its oil; any cut to Venezuelan supplies could spell political and economic disaster for Havana.
But if Cuba locks in its energy independence, it could lurch from a cash-strapped developing nation into a flush oil exporter overnight. That potentially could project its current regime years into the future.
Cuba's economic zone in the Gulf is divided into 59 blocs. They include ventures with Repsol (Spain), Hydro (Norway), OVL (India), PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrovietnam, Petronas (Malaysia) and Sonangol (Angola). China and Venezuela have said they intend to help Cuba triple its refining capacity by 2017.
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