Cash-strapped Cuba's long quest for black gold took another twist with the announcement that a Malaysian firm and Venezuela's PDVSA will use an advanced oil platform vacated by Spain's Repsol.
Repsol had been doing exploratory drilling since February offshore not far from Havana, but on May 22 said it had not found oil with the Scarabeo-9, a state-of-the-art $500,000-a-day platform.
"The Scarabeo-9 platform used in exploratory drilling in the field Jaguey-1X has been moved to the Catoche-1X well area", said a statement from state oil firm Cupet read out on an official news broadcast.
The new well, "where drilling started May 24," is operated by a Malaysian firm that is a subsidiary of Petronas "on a risk contract with Cupet in which Russia's Gastrionet also is taking part."
Once drilling is complete on the current well, Scarabeo-9 will be moved to an area called Cabo de San Antonio 1X, run by Petroleos de Venezuela SA, (PDVSA), the Cupet statement added, without giving dates.
Some studies estimate Cuba has probable reserves of between five and nine billion barrels of oil in its economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Cuban authorities have said their crude reserves are as high as 20 billion barrels.
The country has long suffered from crippling energy dependence.
The Americas' lone one-party Communist state used to depend on the Soviet bloc for cut-rate oil and plunged into economic chaos and blackouts when it was cut off after 1989.
Now Cuba depends on Venezuela -- a vital economic and political ally -- for most of its oil; any cut to Venezuelan supplies could spell political and economic disaster for Havana.
But if Cuba locks in its energy independence, it could lurch from a cash-poor developing nation into a flush oil exporter overnight, potentially breathing new life into its one-party state.
Cuba's economic zone in the Gulf is divided into 59 blocs. They include ventures with Repsol (Spain), Hydro (Norway), OVL (India), PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrovietnam, Petronas (Malaysia) and Sonangol (Angola). China and Venezuela have said they intend to help Cuba triple its refining capacity by 2017.