* Chinese-built rig to be inspected before delivery
* Inspection may delay arrival in Cuba until August
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Feb 22 Delivery of a Chinese-built
drilling rig that will open the first full-scale exploration
for oil in Cuban waters looks unlikely until at least August in
the latest delay to beset the project, sources said this week.
They said an inspection of the newly-built, high-tech rig
had been ordered to make sure it was in good shape after taking
on water in transit from the Chinese shipyard where it was
built to Singapore for completion in October.
The rig -- the Scarabeo 9, owned by Italian oil service
firm Saipem SPLM.SI -- had been expected to arrive in Cuban
waters in late June or early July after several earlier delays
postponed its original delivery date of September 2009.
If the inspection turns up problems that need repair, the
latest delay could stretch beyond August, sources said.
The water problem was not considered a major issue, but an
inspection was ordered to assure the rig's overall quality,
Once the rig gets to Cuba, it will be used by a consortium
led by Spanish oil company Repsol YPF (REP.MC) to drill one or
two exploratory wells, then passed on to other oil companies
for exploration in drilling leases they hold in Cuba's part of
the Gulf of Mexico.
Repsol drilled the only offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and
found oil, but said it was "non-commercial."
It has long planned to drill another well, but is widely
believed to have had difficulty finding a rig that does not
violate limits on use of U.S.-developed technology set by the
49-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
Cuba, which depends on its socialist ally Venezuela for
much of its oil, has said it may have 20 billion barrels or
more of oil in its untapped oil fields.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6
billion barrels and 10 trillion feet of gas.
The Scarabeo 9 is a dynamic positioning, semi-submersible
rig, meaning it floats partially submerged in the ocean and is
kept in place by thrusters built into the platform.
It will be drilling in more than 5,000 feet (1,524 meters)
of water, but is capable of working in depths of 12,000 feet
An August arrival would bring Scarabeo 9 to Cuba at the
height of hurricane season, but the rig is built to withstand
winds up to 115 miles per hour (185 km) and waves up to 88 feet
The prospect of offshore oil exploration by Cuba has
prompted proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress that could
penalize companies operating in the communist-led country or
require them to prove they can adequately respond to an
accident like last summer's BP blowout in the U.S. Gulf of
Cuba is just 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, but U.S. oil
companies cannot operate there because of the U.S. embargo.
(Editing by Chris Wilson)