* Third failed well this year
* Scarabeo 9 drilling rig leaving Cuba for West Africa
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Nov 2 Cuba's offshore oil hopes suffered
a major blow on Friday with the announcement of another dry hole
in its still untapped fields and word that the drilling rig used
in the project will soon depart the communist island.
Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that a well
drilled off western Cuba by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA
had been plugged because it "did not offer possibilities of
It was the third unsuccessful well drilled this year in
Cuban waters, where the country says it may have 20 billion
barrels of oil and the key to future energy independence.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 5
Cuba gets two-thirds of the nearly 150,000 barrels of oil it
consumes daily from oil-rich socialist ally Venezuela.
Granma said that because of the "technical experience and
valuable geological information obtained," in the failed well,
PDVSA planned to "continue its participation in the exploration
campaign in Cuban waters."
But it will have to do so without the Scarabeo 9, the
massive Chinese-built drilling rig owned by Italian oil service
firm Saipem SpA that has been used in the Cuban
It was brought to the Caribbean island in January under
contract with Spanish oil company Repsol SA.
Industry sources said the semi-submersible rig, which can
operate in waters up to 12,000 feet deep (3,660 meters), will
leave Cuba by mid-November and go to West Africa for exploration
It will not be easily replaced in Cuba, where technology
restrictions imposed by the longstanding U.S. trade embargo
against the island greatly limit the number of deepwater rigs
The Cuban wells have been drilled in water more than a mile
(1.6 km) deep.
Repsol is pulling out of Cuba after drilling an unsuccessful
well earlier this year.
It passed the Scarabeo 9 to Malaysia's Petronas which, in
partnership with Russia's Gazprom Neft, then drilled another
failed well. Petronas continues to do seismic work in Cuban
waters, searching for more drilling prospects.
The Scarabeo 9 then went to PDVSA for the third dry hole.
Repsol drilled a previous failed well in Cuba in 2004 using
a different rig.
One problem the companies have encountered is very hard
rock, which quickly wears down drilling bits and is so dense
that oil does not easily flow through it. Petronas has said it
found oil, but it could not be produced.
Cuba's best offshore hope now lies with Russia's
Zarubezhneft, which is set to begin drilling this month about
200 miles (320 km) east of Havana.
It will be drilling in shallower depths, using a rig from
Norwegian firm Songa Offshore SE capable of working in
waters up to 1,200 feet deep.