Varun Sivaram

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Addressing the Risk of a Cuban Oil Spill

by Blake Clayton
March 8, 2012


Is oil drilling in Cuban waters safe? Or might a “Cuban oil crisis” be upon us? And is the United States prepared for the possibility of a major spill just sixty miles from the Florida keys?

They’re good questions, and ones that have been generating an increasing amount of buzz ever since Repsol finalized plans with the Cuban government to drill a well about thirty miles north of Havana. Drilling began the last week of January.

One of my colleagues at the CFR, Captain Melissa Burt of the U.S. Coast Guard, and I just published a short piece making our case for why, and how, the the United States should address the threat of an oil spill emanating from Cuba. You can access the report here.

Here’s our framing:

“The imminent drilling of Cuba’s first offshore oil well raises the prospect of a large-scale oil spill in Cuban waters washing onto U.S. shores. Washington should anticipate this possibility by implementing policies that would help both countries’ governments stem and clean up an oil spill effectively. These policies should ensure that both the U.S. government and the domestic oil industry are operationally and financially ready to deal with any spill that threatens U.S. waters. These policies should be as minimally disruptive as possible to the country’s broader Cuba strategy.”

It’s politically tricky territory for the Obama Administration, certainly, and yet Captain Bert and I argue that there’s good reason for U.S. policymakers to take some basic precautions that need not comprise any significant revision to existing policy. These defensive measures can help lower the risk of a second Deepwater Horizon, this time coming from Cuba.

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