China, Cuba and Oil

About a week ago, George Will, in a column, asserted incorrectly that Cuba was letting NorwayChina drill for oil in Gulf waters.
The meme was promptly picked up and eventually asserted by the US vice President.

Where did this come from?

The rumours predates Will’s column.
It surfaces in several blogs, unsourced, on sunday June 1st.
Before that, in late May, it appears in a bunch of low key speeches by republican congressmen and is echoed in editorials and letters in local papers around the US.

Now Cuba is leasing blocks for exploratory drilling, eventually, the Brazilians are interested; and apparently there is an onshore chinese rig in west Cuba.

Here is some Cuban News:
The Canadian firms Sherritt International and PEBERCAN announced last month that they had discovered oil deposits in the Santa Cruz 100 oil field in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the results of explorations in offshore blocks allotted to the companies 55 km east of Havana, the Santa Cruz 100 field could measure up to 20 sq km and produce high-grade oil of far better quality than the heavy crude Cuba now produces…

The Spanish firm REPSOL YPF and Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro (PETROBRAS) plan exploratory drilling in 2005. Two Chinese companies are also considering investment in oil-exploration blocks…

So how did this Chinese Whisper go from cuban leasing future explorations, to China doing slant drilling from Cuba into US waters…?

May 19 Yahoo News quotes Fred Barnes of the “Weekly Standard” who asserts China is now drilling in the Gulf by agreement with Cuba – the assertion is unsourced, of course. Same day Wall Street Journal article by Pete du Pont makes the same assertion. Strange coincidence.
May 18 Prof Gaski of ND makes the same assertion in a Indianapolis Star opinion article.
May 15 Isenberg of the Cato Institute in the Asia Times on China’s “soft power” says China has oil exploration contracts with Cuba – which they do, since they have a rig onland in Cuba.
A May 14 opinion article in NewburyportNews claims China is already drilling “only 90 miles offshore”.
That is where a casual google search runs out.

Two months earlier, the Oil Drum has two discussions – one on a Florida Sun Sentinel discussion of Sen Nelson’s proposal to move the US-Cuba boundary in the Gulf – to prevent the imagined scenario of Cuban drilling for oil 45 miles off the US coast.
The discussion notes there is no actual current evidence for oil there.
There is an article the same day on Chinese companies expanding into selling drilling equipment for exploration in third countries.
Here is a St Petersburg Times concurrent article – discussing Cuba’s energy problems, conjectured oil fields in waters north of Cuba, and, of course Norway’s role in all of this.
Is this how the current rumour started?

Pushing to an advanced search shows this meme bubbling for some time in among the usual suspects.
Facts and conjecture are merged: combination of Cuba looking for exploration partners; low level current Cuban collaboration with China for onshore drilling; Brazilian/Canadian/Norwegian/Spanish proposals to explore Cuban waters; and the imagined scenario of deep water drills along the US-Cuba water boundary slanting into Florida waters, is made into a current meme of
“China is drilling US oil, which the environmentalists won’t let us drill”.

An imaginary scenario posed to push for broadening ban on drilling off Florida, combined with unrelated discussion on China wanting to expand its export markets for equipment? Brew in the blogosphere through unsourced speculation and imaginary future scenarios iteratively translated into current facts.

So, why did the heavy hitters bring this up now?
Seems like there’s been some co-ordinated push to float this meme for a 2-3 weeks.


  1. #1 Mark P
    June 13, 2008

    Hmmm. What could it be? A political ploy to get the US to open sensitive areas for oil exploration and drilling? Nah, couldn’t be that.

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    June 13, 2008

    Alternatively, somebody trying to set China up as a boogeyman. There was a faction in the Bush administration trying to do that back in 2001 (remember the spy plane incident), but 9/11 shelved such plans. Perhaps they are dusting the plans off now that they realize that cries of, “Look! Scary Iranarabislamofascist terrorist!” are no longer having the desired effect.

    We already know that the hawks will ignore (or perhaps have never seen or read) the sage advice of Vizzini: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

  3. #3 Gordon Pasha
    June 14, 2008


    Well, the Cubans themselves say it…



  4. #4 Steinn Sigurdsson
    June 14, 2008

    Yeah, SINOPEC was one of a dozen companies to get options to do exploratory drilling in the Santa Cruz field off Cuba. Eventually.
    Some drilling has been done, but not apparently by the Chinese, the claim for possible presence of oil is from a Canadian company.
    No oil field discovered, no oil being extracted, certainly no rigs on the US border and no slant drilling into fields in US territory.

    Since apparently Petrobras booked just about every available deep water rig in the world, there won’t be any either for a while at least.

  5. #5 Bee
    June 16, 2008

    At a casual glance, it appears quite a few of these ‘sources’ have been unable to distinguish between ‘Canadian’ and ‘Chinese’. Hey, they both start with the letter ‘C’!

  6. #6 JohnD
    June 17, 2008

    As a quick postscript to this post, Will partially retracts in today’s Post editorial:

    “In a previous column, I stated that China, in partnership with Cuba, is drilling for oil 60 miles from the Florida coast. While Cuba has partnered with Chinese companies to drill in the Florida Straits, no Chinese company has been involved in Cuba’s oil exploration that close to the United States.”

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    June 17, 2008

    I noticed tonight that TPM Muckraker is asking the same questions you are.

    Good catch, Steinn, beating the likes of Talking Points Memo to a story like this.

  8. #8 Steinn Sigurdsson
    June 18, 2008

    They seem to have found much the same as I did, and reached same conclusions, which is reassuring, since they have, like, a staff doing this stuff full time and properly.

    Meme evolution is usually interesting, especially viral memes.

  9. #9 Steinn Sigurdsson
    June 18, 2008

    Oh… that’s why.
    Bush proposes coastal oil exploration

    I wonder what Jeb Bush thinks about this proposal… it was because of him, as I recall, that Bush proposed to ban drilling in the first place, right?

  10. #10 mayo20
    October 19, 2008

    Did anybody hear that the Canadian Co. has left the Cuban drilling process?


New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.