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India signs deal to explore Cuban oil

Written by: Staff

HAVANA, Sep 10 (Reuters) India's state-run oil company signed an agreement Sunday to explore Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters for oil at a time when U.S. companies and politicians are increasingly concerned over exploration in the area.

Cuba Petroleum Director Fidel Rivero Prieto said upon signing the agreement that six foreign companies had signed for 16 of 59 blocks in Cuba's Gulf waters, two companies more than previously announced.

Prieto refused to name the two other companies or which blocks they had taken due to possible U.S. objections.

It is up to the companies to announce if they want,'' he said.

India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp's (ONGC) overseas arm ONGC Videsh signed joint production agreements for blocks 34 and 35 covering 4,300 square kilometers (1,660 square miles).

What we are doing is completely within the law,'' the company's managing director, R.S. Butola, said when asked about possible U.S.


The possibility of striking oil just 90 miles (144 km) off U.S. shores at a time of soaring fuel prices and rising global demand has set off a political debate over whether U.S.

companies, sidelined by American sanctions, should be allowed to explore there.

Some lawmakers in Florida, where exiles opposed to Cuba's communist government have strong influence, have warned of possible environmental damage and want companies exploring with Cuba punished.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the North Cuba basin could contain some 4.6 billion barrels of oil, with a high-end potential of 9.3 billion barrels.

U.S. companies are barred from exploring for oil in communist Cuba's 43,250-square-mile (112,000-square-km) offshore zone opened for foreign exploration in 1999, under trade sanctions enforced against President Fidel Castro's revolutionary government since 1962.

Prieto said U.S. companies were welcome and protests from Florida over potential environmental damage were unwarranted as the most up-to-date technology would be used in drilling.

ONGC Videsh is already a partner with Spain's Repsol-YPF and Norway's Norsk Hydro in six blocks in an area where three years ago Repsol found indications of good quality oil.

The two new blocks signed for on Sunday are just below the other blocks and closest to the northwest coast where heavy crude is pumped from on shore.

Canada's Sherritt International has also signed for four blocks in Cuban waters.

Industry experts said Cuba will have to find large deposits of light oil to make it worthwhile extracting oil so deep under water.

Cuba produces 60,000 barrels per day of poor-quality oil and imports about 98,000 bpd of oil and derivatives from its ally Venezuela.

China's giant oil and gas company Sinopec Corp. signed an agreement last year to produce heavy oil with Cuba Petroleum in Cuba's westernmost Pinar del Rio province from on-shore wells.


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