Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 5 a.m.
Earlier this year, Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF announced that a massive drilling rig had started operating in "ultra-deep water" in the Straits of Florida, somewhere between Cuba and the Keys. One of the more problematic aspects of the operation is the dearth of information about where the rig is actually located.
But new images
from the West Virginia-based nonprofit SkyTruth show that the rig is about 17 miles off the coast of Havana.
In the picture below, the bright white spot accompanied by yellow text is thought to be the Scarabeo 9 drilling rig. The two white dots positioned next to it might be vessels, SkyTruth President John Amos says. That tiny orange speck northwest of the rig is a small oil slick reported by the U.S. Coast Guard last Wednesday.
Amos says that the small oil slick, about 2.5 miles from the drilling rig, is run-of-the-mill pollution and shouldn't alarm anyone. What's notable, however, is that the Coast Guard made a point of documenting and reporting the slick.
"It is interesting that they conducted an overflight for that," Amos says. "I expect that's just the Coast Guard putting down their marker and making it known that they're keeping a close eye on this rig."
Drilling in deep water is a risky venture. Remember the BP catastrophe in the Gulf? The lack of dialogue between Cuba and the U.S. definitely heightens the risk of an environmental catastrophe. Amos says only about 15 percent of the companies that responded to the BP spill are licensed to do business with Cuba.
"Any oil response company that wanted to do business in Cuban waters would need a special exemption from the State Department to do so," Amos says. "Companies have been applying to get that exemption in advance. You obviously don't want to be going through that process in the midst of an emergency."
Hopefully the rig operates flawlessly, nothing explodes, and there's no need for anyone to respond to anything. Still, a contingency plan involving both the U.S. and Cuba would seem logical.
Amos says the group will continue to use satellite imagery to monitor daily the waters around the rig for signs of pollution or spills, as it does for the Gulf and waters around the world.
Here's a better look at just exactly how far the rig is positioned from the coast of the Keys.
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