Cuba’s state oil company has announced plans to drill deepwater wells in its Gulf of Mexico waters in cooperation with companies from Venezuela and Angola, according to a Reuters report.

Cuba-Petroleo (Cupet) hopes to begin drilling in late 2016 or early 2017 in an area to the island’s northwest, which some believe could contain billions of barrels of oil. PDVSA and Angola’s Sonangol have been named as potential partners in the project, according to the report.

It would be the first drilling offshore Cuba since 2012, when Repsol departed the region in the wake of a dry offshore well.

The past month has seen significant moves in the thawing of relations and loosening of trade embargo restrictions between the US and Cuba. If that trend continues it is possible more rigs could be available to Cuba’s oil efforts.

The thaw in US-Cuba relations is raising prospects for new business opportunities for American companies in the island nation, among them energy. This was evident in late October in Havana, where more than 120 people from the US, Cuba, and other countries gathered for a cutting-edge conference on offshore oil development.

The Safe Seas Clean Seas Symposium was organized by the Houston consulting firm Hunt Petty LLC to promote cooperation in preventing and responding to spills in Cuban waters as Havana plans to resume drilling next year, following unsuccessful exploration in recent years.

Given that the drilling would occur as close as 50 mi (80 km) from Florida’s coast, doing so safely and with the best equipment is critical to both Cuba and the US, even as the decades-old US embargo on trade with Cuba continues to restrict transactions between the two countries.

Among those attending the event at a Havana hotel were representatives of the Cuban government and the Cuban oil company, Cupet, as well as US Coast Guard officers and staff from the recently reopened US Embassy in Havana.

According to USA Today, others at the meeting included representatives of US companies with an eye out for eventual business in Cuba, including Cameron, Wild Well Control, and Witt O’Brien, plus non-US companies already active in Cuba’s oil sector. Environmental concerns were represented as well, including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

Source: - Offshore