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Huge Oil Rig Ready To Drill Off Cuba

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Less than two years after the BP oil spill left the Gulf coast reeling, a new semi-submersible oil rig is now stationed in the Florida Straits, less than 90 miles from the coast of Key West.

According to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald, the Scarabeo 9 giant, semi-submersible rig finished its long journey from Singapore, China and is now visible from the shores of Havana, Cuba, according to Jorge Piñon, visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

It arrived in the Florida Straits late last week.

Drilling is expected to get under way immediately by Spanish energy company Repsol.

Repsol is paying Eni S.p.A., the Italian company that owns the rig, $511,000 every day its workers are aboard the vessel, according to The Herald.

Repsol is the first of several international companies that will use the Scarabeo 9 to look for oil in the Florida Straits, where the U.S. Geological Survey estimates about five billion barrels of oil sit under the ocean floor. The Cuban government thinks the amount is much higher — around 20 billion barrels.

A significant find could transform Communist Cuba from an energy importer to a major oil player in the Western Hemisphere. The prospect has prompted critics of the Castro government, including U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, to blast the Obama administration for not doing enough to stop the drilling project. Ros-Lehtinen, whose congressional district includes the Keys, also criticized President Barack Obama for letting U.S. inspectors greenlight the Scarabeo 9.

Others have criticized the administration for not doing enough to relax the 50-year-old, Cold War-era trade embargo against Cuba. The policy would prohibit American companies skilled in oil cleanup from providing immediate aid in the event of a disaster.

Because of the embargo, Repsol would have to rely on companies from the United Kingdom, Norway and Brazil for help if the Scarabeo 9 caused a spill.

The Scarabeo 9 will go deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig which exploded in the Gulf in April 2010. The Scarabeo 9 will mine for oil about 6,500 feet below the water while the Deepwater Horizon spill happened at a depth of 5,500 feet.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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