Cuban Oil Exploration Opposed by U.S. Right

cuba oil


On Monday January 30, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Infrastructure met in Florida to hear testimony about the possible impact of new deepwater oil drilling off the Northwest coast of Cuba. . Republican politicians, especially those based in the conservative Cuban exile community of South Florida, as well as some Democrats, have been trying to stop the drilling, even though some of them are actually on record as supporting drilling for oil off the U.S. East Coast, and the controversial “fracking” process and the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline. Although these politicians take a stance of defending the U.S. coastline from damage similar to that of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, they also have a political agenda of preventing Cuban oil self-sufficiency. 

But instead, the situation points to the crying need to end the 50 year U.S. blockade of socialist Cuba, and the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Earlier in January a Chinese built deepwater oil drilling platform, Scarabeo 9, was anchored in place off the Northwest coast of Cuba.  The platform will be operated, in agreement with the Cuban government, by a consortium of foreign enterprises, of which the most important is the Spanish Repsol company.

Cuban scientists believe that there may be as many as 20 billion barrels of crude oil reserves a mile or so below the surface. This could be a game changer for the economics and politics of the region. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of Cuba's greatest difficulties has been that of getting hold of enough oil for electrical generation and industry. Cuba has a small amount of land based oil production, but the quality of oil is not good. More recently, Cuba has been able to import oil on generous terms from Venezuela.  But to have its own plentiful supply of oil will mean not only that all worries about supplies come to an end, but also that Cuba can become a net oil exporter, which will allow it to play a stronger role regionally and worldwide, as well as improving the living standards of its own people.

Why not go green instead? Cuba already has been doing more than most countries, and vastly more than the United States, to develop renewable energy sources. When Soviet supplies dried up, Cuba was forced to re-think its energy policy, but now those emergency adaptations have been worked into a coherent and advanced “green energy” philosophy, which the country is implementing. In international forums, Cuba has forcefully taken the side of those countries which are most endangered by the effects of global warming to argue for stronger measures to limit use of fossil fuels and thus cut greenhouse gases. 

Cuba has more than enough sunlight for solar energy to eventually replace fossil fuels for many purposes.  Cuban agriculture also produces waste products which can be tapped for energy. This includes, notably, bagasse, the material left over from the processing of cane for sugar production. Other agricultural, livestock and forest waste are also being explored as sources of renewable energy. Existing hydroelectric generation capacity can also be built on. 

However, Cuba has abandoned the idea of developing nuclear power generation, and opposes the conversion of land used for the growing of food crops to crops used in energy generation, as potentially endangering the world's food supply.

Cuba has also made notable strides in reducing wasteful electricity use. All incandescent light bulbs in Cuban homes have now been replaced by much more efficient fluorescent bulbs, and electricity rates for Cuban consumers reward households who keep their electricity use low. The Cuban government also initiated a campaign to replace old, electricity wasting household appliances with newer models that conserve energy, giving away many appliances free. 

As with health care and education, the Cuban government has incorporated technical assistance in the development of renewable energy into its many overseas aid missions to poor countries regionally and worldwide.  So nobody - least of all the United States, which accounts for 23% of the world's oil consumption  with 5 % of the world's population, and historically has been the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas generation - can accuse Cuba of being backward in terms of renewable energy and energy conservation.

However, Cuba's financial limitations act as a break on the development of renewable energy, which inevitably involve startup costs for research and development and the creation of some new infrastructure. The point at which Cuba or anybody else can drop the use of fossil fuels entirely, has not yet arrived. Ironically, the breather that the new oil discovery may give it could hasten the “greening” of Cuban energy use, because it will give Cuba capital for changing its infrastructure and starting new wind, solar, biofuel and other projects.

A huge impediment is the 50 year U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, which makes the importation of new technology vastly more expensive. The Cubans call the U.S. policy a “blockade” instead of an “embargo” because the United States not only will not allow its own companies to trade with Cuba, but also threatens foreign companies who trade with Cuba with sanctions, and forbids them from selling to Cuba items which contain components made by U.S. companies. Although the Obama administration has loosened some restrictions on travel to Cuba, the Cubans complain that on the other hand, it has increased enforcement of the blockade. But the very existence of the blockade presents a problem for anyone sincerely worried about what would happen to Florida's coasts and reefs if there were some kind of accident like the giant spill at BP's Deepwater Horizon's well in 2010. Technical specialists have been pointing out that given the blockade, it might be difficult for U.S. companies to mobilize resources to pitch in to deal with such a disaster, and have urged that contingency planning between Cuba and the United States be set up as soon as possible to assure that coordination takes place. At writing, it appears that the Obama administration may follow this commonsense approach.

But some of the politicians who grilled U.S. officials and technical experts at the subcommittee meeting on January 30th were not mollified by reports from U.S. Interior Department officials who had boarded Scarabeo 9 and inspected it enroute to Cuban waters, and for the most part expressed confidence that things were being well handled and that the danger of a spill was minimal. The real agenda of the right is to prevent Cuba from breaking out from the effects of the U.S. blockade using the newfound oil wealth. Neither U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen nor Representative David Rivera are on the Coast Guard Subcommittee, but they are South Florida Cuban exile Republican politicians who have based their political careers on attacking the Cuban Revolution. Ros Lehtinen has introduced legislation intended to punish Repsol and other third party companies who are participating in the Scarabeo 9 operations. Rivera, for his part, dramatically demanded that Repsol must “bleed” if anything goes wrong.

As a sovereign, independent country, Cuba has every right to do what it is doing. People in the United States who are sincerely concerned about the environment should urge the Obama administration to ignore people like Ros Lehtinen and Rivera, and work closely with Cuban authorities in developing emergency response protocols in case of any accident. Maybe that can show the way to the most urgent priority, which is to end the blockade. 

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  • This excellent article, in very small space, capsulizes the crux of Cuba and world relations, showing how U. S. imperialism works to keep the world, U. S. people included, (including the selfless Cuban people, and their vast experience in thwarting natural and human disasters), enslaved in thousands and thousands of ways-both to nature and the irrational human production of this imperialism.
    Relations have to be normalized, Cuba and the U. S. must be free.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 03/08/2012 11:36am (8 years ago)

  • In a healthier world Cuba and the U.S. would work together to ensure that oil drilling is done as environmentally safely as possible. Oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico threaten marine life and the ecology of all surrounding countries. Burning of oil threatens the atmosphere. In a healthy, sustainable world drilling for oil would be much reduced and sustainable sources of energy used. The U.S. is preventing the best approaches in several ways - not cooperating with Cuba while acting as if it alone can decide on the fate of the environment, and not dramatically pushing the research, development, production and provision of solar and other sustainable activities.

    Posted by HenryCT, 02/22/2012 4:33pm (8 years ago)

  • Just as US drilling in US waters is none of Cuba's business. Cuba drilling in Cuban waters is none of US business.
    And it is absolutely stupid that the US has not established relations with Cuba well before now.

    Posted by Thad, 02/17/2012 4:40pm (8 years ago)

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