Cuban Oil: Black Gold or Black Hole?


Cuba has oil and gas. That is certain, say geologists. The big question is just how much. Chris Schenk, Geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, was one of the first to assess the island’s natural resources. By Schenk’s estimate Cuba has at least 4.6 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas. Both are considered significant enough to pique the interest of any major energy company in the world. “People are always interested in where the oil is,” Schenk told  The challenge is finding and tapping those resources, which are said to be primarily in the North Cuba Basin on the northwestern part of the island.

Source: USGS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat down at the United Nations in late September as part of the ongoing efforts to thaw relations that began earlier this year. Even before the two countries started talking the Cuban government was laying the groundwork to attract partners to harness its natural resources using modern technology. Last year, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment announced it was seeking $8 billion in foreign investment as reported by the USGS. 86 of 246 planned projects are in the petroleum sector for both on and offshore blocks.

“It’s another Gulf of Mexico play, a possible extension of what the industry has achieved in that region,” said Richard Sawaya, Vice President of USA*Engage, during an interview with His organization, a broad-based coalition, is an advocate for normal commercial relations among countries and supports the lifting of sanctions against Cuba.  However the natural resources industry may not be as aggressive in Cuba as they might have been back in 2014 when oil prices were hovering around $100 a barrel. Prices have fallen 50% since.

“Given what has happened to oil prices it would be hard for me as a veteran of the industry to see exploratory work as high on the list” for major energy companies, he said.  Sawaya was a longtime executive at Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) which was acquired by BP (NYSE:BP) in 2000.

Still, Sawaya notes there will be conversations. Drilling giant Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is just one of the major U.S. energy companies eyeing Cuba. A spokesperson tells that they are closely monitoring the discussions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Canadian oil company Sherritt International, which has been operating in the region for 20 years, tells executives are watching the developments with great interest.  Sherritt currently produces 34,000 tons of nickel annually and 18,000 barrels of oil a day. “We have found Cuba to be a good stable environment for our business,” said Scott Tabachnick, Senior Manager, Investor Relations and Communications, at Sherritt, adding, “What’s good for Cuba tends to be good for Sherritt.”