Will the United States be prepared if Cuba’s new offshore rigs spill oil into US waters?
To address this question, personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) completed a review today of the offshore oil rig Scarabeo 9 following an invitation from the vessel’s operator, Repsol. While aboard the Scarabeo 9, personnel reviewed vessel construction, drilling equipment, and safety systems in anticipation of the rig’s upcoming drilling operations in Cuba’s exclusive economic zone in the coming months.
According to the Coast Guard, the review is “consistent with U.S. efforts to minimize the possibility of a major oil spill, which would hurt U.S. economic and environmental interests”. While US regulators exercise no legal or regulatory authority over the rig, the review compared the vessel with applicable international safety and security standards as well as U.S. standards for drilling units operating in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. U.S. personnel found the vessel to generally comply with existing international and U.S. standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide.
In anticipation of an increase in drilling activities in the Caribbean Basin and Gulf of Mexico, the United States is participating in multilateral discussions with the Cuba as well as other countries nearby including Bahamas, Jamaica and Mexico on issues including, drilling safety and oil spill preparedness. The Coast Guard views the cooperation as providing valuable information on each country’s spill response plans and capabilities. The Coast Guard is also working to update contingency plans for spills on international waters that could potentially affect U.S. waters and coastline.
In addition to international cooperation, the USCG and BSEE have involved more than 80 federal, state, local, and maritime industry representatives in spill response plans. The group held a table top exercise on Nov. 18, 2011 to address a hypothetical international spill off the coast of Florida. The exercise allowed participants to discuss sensitive environmental areas, planning strategies, likely issues and response coordination principles that responders would face, as well as gather additional information to use in future planning.
The USCG notes the review conducted today does not confer any form of certification or endorsement under U.S. or international law.
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