Opinion

Commentary: If BP's Hayward gave Raul Castro advice on offshore oil drilling

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. MCT

An absolutely true news item: Cuba will soon begin deepwater drilling for oil and gas only 45 to 65 miles from the Florida Keys.

Dear President Castro (may I call you Raul?),

We've never met over mojitos, but you might have heard of me. My name is Anthony Hayward (Tony, to my friends), and up until recently I was heavily involved with deepwater oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm writing to share some life lessons from my own experience as head of a prominent, multinational energy company, so that you and your corporate partners might better cope with any unforeseen crisis.

Let me first suggest formulating a real backup plan in case something goes wrong. By "real backup plan" I mean a series of actions that can be promptly initiated to fix the problem, as opposed to the traditional imaginary backup plan that exists only on paper.

For instance, let's say one of your drilling rigs suddenly explodes, spewing millions of gallons of crude into the ocean, crippling marine life, fouling tourist beaches, and creating one of the costliest environmental nightmares in history.

You're thinking: It could never happen, amigo! We will use state-of-the-art blowout preventers!

Not to burst your post-revolutionary bubble, Raúl, but blowout preventers occasionally malfunction. I'm talking meltdown.

Should that occur, you certainly don't want to be in the embarrassing position of consulting with Kevin Costner, or scrambling to weld a goofy-looking dome to drop over the broken wellhead.

So, play it safe. Build a warehouse-full of capture domes before you start drilling, ones that actually fit snugly over the pipe. Better still, test your blowout preventers every once in a while, to make sure they work.

Another thing: Stock up on booms, about a thousand miles' worth. Worse comes to worse, you can try those styrofoam noodles that kids clobber each other with in swimming pools.

In the event of a major, uncontrolled oil spill, I would strongly advise not to give CNN (or any TV network, even Fox) 24-hour access to your underwater video broadcast.

The vision of that gushing brown plume, day after day, week after week is just plain depressing. Worse, it leaves the world with the impression that you truly don't have a clue how to plug the leak.

A nonstop video stream also gives so-called experts an opportunity to challenge your official estimate of how much oil is leaking into the sea. (In our case, we just passed around a bottle of Beefeater's and came up with a number -- 1,000 barrels a day -- which turned out to be 55 times too low).

Fortunately for you, Cuba has one distinct advantage over other countries conducting risky, deep-sea oil exploration: It's a freaking dictatorship!

That means you, my friend, can totally control the public's access to information, a strategy that I attempted in the Gulf with only mixed results.

Being a military strongman, you won't have to sit still for any press conferences if you don't want to, thus avoiding a situation where you might blurt something astoundingly insensitive, such as "I would like my life back."

Your government has confirmed that Cuba's new drilling efforts will take place not far from the Florida Keys and the powerful currents of the Gulf Stream, which theoretically could sweep a choking oil slick to Miami Beach and even farther up the seaboard.

Should that happen, beachfront communities that are economically dependent on tourism and fishing are bound to complain. Unaccustomed as you are to criticism within Havana, you must be ready for a wave of outrage and indignation from the rest of the world.

From firsthand experience, I can tell you that the response to such disasters usually requires that somebody in a position of responsibility be fired. Of course that somebody won't be you, el jefe, but you might want to designate a fall guy in advance.

It would also be helpful to prepare a public-relations blitz (I can recommend a top-notch advertising firm) designed to persuade people that Cuba and its corporate partners are doing everything possible to clean up the mess.

Let me humbly suggest a slogan: Estaremos aquí hasta que lo arreglemos todo.

Loosely translated, that means, "We'll be here until we make this right."

Again, I know what you're thinking, Raúl, but trust me. They'll go for it.

Finally, on a social note, I was hoping for some info on the famous Marina Hemingway. Being something of an accomplished sailor, I've been contemplating a voyage to your quaint island.

Would you happen to know if any slips are available for a 52-footer, say mid-April?

Yours in petroleum-based solidarity,

Tony

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