Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Cuban oil development plans moved one step closer to operation with the naming of an on-site planning coordinator, an Australian energy company said.
Melbana Energy Ltd. is one of the few Western energy companies with a Cuban portfolio, and the only one listed on the Australian stock exchange. The company said Thursday it chose a drilling director, Heriberto Vasco Mufioz, whose experience with Cuban and international oil companies spans more than 40 years.
"This appointment is an important step as we build our organizational capability to progress through the permitting, procurement and logistics phases in preparation for the drilling of up to two wells in Block 9 production sharing contract commencing mid-2018," Managing Director and CEO Peter Stickland said in a Thursday statement.
The company aims to tap the Alameda-1 prospect, which the company said is in an area that has more than 630 million recoverable barrels of oil at the high end. Quarterly progress in Cuba included advances on engineering and permitting processes.
Hurricane Irma battered the north of Cuba as a Category 3 storm in early September before turning north for its run up Florida's western coast, though Melbana gave no indication that its license areas on the northern shores of Cuba were damaged by the storm.
Melbana's announcement came as the U.S. government said it was tightening sanctions on Cuban economic activity to steer revenue away from military, intelligence and security services.
The company estimates it would cost at least $10 million to drill two wells in Cuba. Its partnership agreement with Petro Australis Ltd. fell apart because of the lack of approval from regulatory authorities, leaving Melbana with a 100 percent stake in Cuban operations and without a partner that would carry 40 percent of the drilling costs.
Cuba produces around 45,000 barrels per day on average, according to Melbana.