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December 2012
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Russian oil firm set to drill in Cuban waters


* Zarubezhneft latest oil firm to try Cuba offshore

* Cuba says offshore may have 20 billion barrels of oil

* Other drillers have come up empty in Cuban waters

HAVANA, Dec 16 (Reuters) – Russian state-owned oil company Zarubezhneft

is expected to start drilling Cuba's latest offshore well soon in the

latest effort to find oil in waters off the communist country's northern

coast, state media said.

The Norwegian-owned Songa Mercur drilling rig will be used "in the

coming days," the weekend reports said, to explore shallower, coastal

shelf waters near Cayo Santa Maria, about 200 miles (320 km) east of Havana.

The rig arrived in Cuba in mid-November (Xetra: A0Z24E – news) from

Trinidad and Tobago where it was refitted with non-U.S. equipment to

comply with technology limits imposed by the longstanding U.S. trade

against Cuba.

Zarubezhneft officials have said the field, which they will explore for

the next six months or so, may hold up to 200 million barrels of oil.

Cuba believes its top oil prospects lie in deeper waters, but for now,

the Russian company's exploration work is Cuba's best hope at tapping

into fields the Caribbean country says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 5 billion barrels

in the area.

Three wells drilled earlier this year near Havana and further west – all

in waters more than a mile (1.6 km) deep – were unsuccessful, a big blow

to the island's hopes of achieving energy independence.

Cuba currently gets most of its oil from in a generous barter

deal that is looking more precarious recently with the illness of

Venezuelan President Hugo , Cuba's top ally.

Chavez is recovering in Havana from his fourth cancer-related surgery,

with unknown prospects for his and political future.

The three earlier wells were drilled with the Scarabeo 9, a newly-built

rig owned by Italian oil service company Saipem (Other OTC: SAPMF.PK

news) that is capable of exploring in 12,000 feet (3,650 meters) of water.

Spanish energy giant Repsol drilled the first well, followed by

Malaysia's Petronas and Venezuela's PDVSA .

The Scarabeo 9 left Cuba on Nov. 14, headed to West Africa.

The Songa Mercur, owned by Songa Offshore (Other OTC: SGAZF.PK – news) ,

can operate in water up to 1,200 feet (365 meters). (Reporting by Jeff

Franks, Editing by G Crosse)

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