Untapped Cuban Oil

Greg Taboada
December 18, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Map of Cuba. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fidel Castro's passing, in November of 2016, continues the steps in reestablishing the relationship between the United States and Cuba. As the doors of tourism have opened for United States, slowly, so have the doors for scientists and environmentalists to enter Cuba. Cuba, being known as a "Jewel of the Caribbean" has incredible natural beauty and resources. The healthy coral reefs and fertile wetlands show that the environmental provisional amendments of the constitution in the 1990's really had a positive effect. However, these provisions also place strict laws on the drilling and development of potential lucrative oil fields offshore of Cuba. Due to an agreement with Venezuela, the push for oil development has not been necessary for the Cuban government. Unfortunately, Cuba's goal of a sustainability has caused soil degradation of 60% of their land due to poor farming techniques, and they have infrastructure issues such as sewage system leaks. The joint cooperation of Cuba and the United States in tapping into the potential offshore oil reserves could provide the economic boost needed to revive the once prosperous cities of Havana. [1]

Cuban Oil and Environmental Policy

The Northern and Southern Cuban provinces contains the oil-bearing overthrust belt and Cretaceous-Tertiary basins. Rocks in the overthrust belt are intensely folded and faulted and have been drilled to find many corresponding oil zones. The two largest oil-zones are Boca de Jaruco and Varadero. By studying the tectonic-structural evolution, Cuban petroleum geologists predict that the largest undeveloped reserved are believed to be offshore. Fig. 1 shows a map of Cuba with the main basins of offshore oil basins located on the northeast coast. [2] However, strict environmental policies to keep the coral reefs healthy and protect the island against the imminent affects of climate change make it very difficult for the U.S. to help Cuban drillers with offshore basins.

U.S. Cooperation

Cuba's North Basin is predicted to have roughly 10 billion barrels of crude oil. The challenge in drilling two miles below sea level are the environmental risks. Improvements have been made to form Caribbean Spill and Oil Pollution Response groups around the Caribbean. U.S. trade laws made this response group rather ineffective, because the U.S. could not provide oil-spill prevention and containment technologies. The transfer of technology to drill in this oil-basin and the ability of marine biologists to work together due to our similar ecosystems would be beneficial to both states. Normalization of U.S. relations could also help in other Cuban environmental problems such as soil erosion mentioned before. U.S. technology could help the tightly linked marine and terrestrial ecosystems in producing more efficient food production methods, so that the government could focus on other problems such as hazardous waste and air pollution problems. [3]

Venezuela and Environmental Policy

Cuba's power grid is a combination of old industrial methods from the United States and the Soviet Union. At one point 96% of this system is powered by cheap crude oil shipped from Venezuela. For the past couple of decades, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chaves traded oil for medical personal. 40,000 Cuban medical capital was provided in Venezuela for a constant supply of cheap crude oil. In 2005, Cuba pushed for an energy revolution pushing for Solar power and other sustainable energies. The United States is now promoting the exportation of renewable energy technology from the states to Cuba. [1]

© Greg Taboada. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. M. Verchick, "Environmental Law," in Cuba: A Legal Guide to Business, ed. by J. Cot and R. Anillo (Thomson West, 2016).

[2] G. Echevarria Rodriguez et al., "Oil and Gas Exploration in Cuba," J. Petrol. Geol. 14, 259 (1991).

[3] J. Friedman-Rudovsky, "Marine Studies Show Potential for US-Cuban Collaboration," Science 341, 446 (2013).