Proposed Drilling Operations in Cuba Threaten the Gulf of Mexico

As the Gulf struggles to recover, Cuba rushes to jumpstart deepwater drilling

06-01-2011 // Jon Brett

More than a year since the Gulf oil disaster, the rush to pursue expanded deepwater drilling is picking up momentum. The long-term impacts of the nearly 206 million gallons of spilled oil are still unclear. New concerns regarding wildlife species continue to arise. But another threat has also emerged. In an effort to discover new reserves of oil and gas, Cuba plans to drill five deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, believes the risk is far too great. “Florida’s coastal environment and our many natural resource-based jobs are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. A major spill in Cuba’s northern waters would quickly appear on Florida’s beaches and shores, wreaking havoc on fishing, tourism, and our entire coastal economy.”

There are a number of concerns regarding this endeavor, but the most significant are the proposed drilling depth and proximity of the sites to Florida.

The wells would be in waters ranging from 400 meters to 1,500 meters (1.6 miles) deep, an additional 600 feet deeper than BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf. According to NWF Senior Scientist Doug Inkley, “If we learned anything from the Gulf oil disaster, it is that drilling safely a mile deep really is beyond current technological capabilities. The potential rig in Cuba and other deepwater wells are high risk, another reason we must transition quickly to a new energy future that reduces our addiction to oil.”

The northernmost tip of Cuba is located less than 100 miles from Key West, but the rig would stand on the outer edge of Cuba’s territorial waters, just 50 miles off Florida’s coast. In the case of a spill, conservative estimates predict it would take just three days for oil to reach U.S. shores.

This proximity is of particular concern because of the potential impacts on tourism. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Outdoor recreation in Florida including recreational fishing, hunting and wildlife-viewing alone generate an economic impact of $10.1 billion annually.” From an economic standpoint, it is vital to protect Florida’s delicate coastal environment.

Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan (FL-13th) recognizes this threat.

“As we have learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and impose serious long-term environmental damage to precious natural resources. We’ve got to have clean water, clean beaches, and a pristine environment if we want to keep attracting people,” said Buchanan.


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