The Need for Critical Dialogue Between U.S. and Cuba with the Emergence of its First Drilling Project By BIANCA CONDE, University of Miami 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…

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SEJ’s 21st Annual Conference. LATIN AMERICA: Cuba Begins Oil Drilling 40 Miles Off U.S. Shore

LATIN AMERICA: Cuba Begins Oil Drilling 40 Miles Off U.S. Shore

© Photo by Luana Goncalves.

The Need for Critical Dialogue Between U.S. and Cuba with the Emergence of its First Drilling Project
By BIANCA CONDE, University of Miami

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 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 [the] U.S. and Cuba relationship since it is in both countries’ 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.

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, said John Proni, executive director of the Applied Research Center at 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 potential 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 at the Ocean Foundation.

Listen to Audio File (Download MP3 1hr 15m)

Session Description and Speakers

Cuba Begins Oil Drilling 40 Miles Off U.S. Shores
If you think the BP spill did serious damage to fishing and tourism, imagine an unregulated drilling project just 40-50 miles up-current from South Florida pristine beaches and world-renowned fishing industry. Cuba is scheduled to begin drilling just weeks after the SEJ conference. Will the U.S. be able to influence its safety standards despite the U.S. embargo and 50 years of tension? Could the Castro brothers use the project as a political tool in their volatile relationship with Cuba’s stated arch enemy? There are new efforts under way right now to create a dialogue between Cuba, the US and Mexico. And panelists will give us an insider’s analysis of America’s vulnerable positilatinon.

Speakers:
David Guggenheim, the “Ocean Doctor;” Senior Fellow, The Ocean Foundation; and Director, Cuba Marine Research & Conservation Program
Jorge Piñón, Oil and Gas Expert and Visiting Research Fellow, Cuban Research Institute, Latin American and Caribbean Center, Florida International University
John Proni, Executive Director, Applied Research Center, Florida International University; and former Director, Ocean Chemistry Division, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Daniel Whittle, Cuba Program Director, Environmental Defense Fund

For more information, please contact:

Cristina Aguirre
Florida International University (FIU)
10555 W. Flagler St., EC 2100
Miami, FL 33174
TEL: 305-348-0431
FAX: 305-348-2309
aguirrec@fiu.edu

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