Wed Sep 28, 2011 9:48pm GMT
* Letter warns Repsol chairman of risk of U.S. lawsuits
* Says investment in Cuba benefits "Castro dictatorship"
* Repsol set to drill offshore Cuban exploration wells
MIAMI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - A group of 34 U.S. Congress members has asked
Spain's Repsol YPF to drop plans to explore for oil off Cuba, saying the
company could face commercial risks and lawsuits in the United States.
Repsol's plans to use a contracted Chinese-built rig to drill
exploration wells later this year in Communist-ruled Cuba's deep waters
in the Gulf of Mexico has aroused opposition in neighboring Florida,
which is a Cuban exile stronghold.
But the Cuban oil project has also prompted calls for the United States
to cooperate with Havana to avert any possible environmental accident
similar to the massive BP oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico last year.
In a letter dated Sept. 27 sent to Repsol Chairman Antonio Brufau,
Republican and Democratic representatives led by Florida Republican
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned the Spanish oil firm it risked damaging its
commercial interests with the United States if it went ahead with its
oil plans in Cuba.
"We respectfully ask that Repsol abandon any of its proposed oil
drilling activities in Cuban waters," the letter signed by the 34 said.
It included the signature of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the
National Democratic Committee.
Cuban-born Ros-Lehtinen chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and
is a fierce critic of Cuba's communist rulers.
"The decaying Cuban regime is desperately reaching out for an economic
lifeline, and it appears to have found a willing partner in Repsol,"
Ros-Lehtinen said in a public statement accompanying the letter. "This
oil drilling scheme endangers the environment, and enriches the Cuban
tyranny," she added.
In June, Repsol, responding to U.S. concerns about its proposed Cuba
drilling activities, reassured the United States it would follow
American environmental requirements and allow U.S. officials to inspect
the drilling rig, according to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The U.S. lawmakers' letter said that since any foreign investment in
Cuba required joint ownership and fiscal payments to the Cuban
government of President Raul Castro, "any drilling operations that
Repsol conducts in Cuban waters will provide direct financial benefit to
the Castro dictatorship".
The letter warned Repsol its drilling plans in Cuba could violate U.S.
law -- including the complex web of sanctions that constitutes the
longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, so exposing the Spanish
company and its affiliates to "criminal and civil liability in U.S. courts".
Repsol, in a consortium with Norway's Statoil and a unit of India's ONGC
, is expected to use the Chinese-built Scarabeo 9 rig to drill one or
two wells. The rig, owned by Italian oil giant Eni SpA's offshore unit
Saipem , is on its way to Cuba.
Repsol is then expected to pass the rig to Malaysia's state-owned oil
company Petronas and then to ONGC unit, ONGC Videsh, which also have
leased offshore Cuban blocks.
Oil experts on the Caribbean island say Cuba may have 20 billion barrels
of oil in its still-untapped portion of the Gulf of Mexico, although the
U.S. Geological Survey estimates reserves are a more modest 5 billion
Repsol drilled a well in Cuban waters in 2004 and found oil there, but
for various reasons, including the longstanding U.S. trade embargo
against the island, has not drilled again.
For Cuba, a big find will boost its struggling economy and reduce or end
dependence on oil-rich leftist ally Venezuela.