Cuba’s North Basin holds an estimated 4.6 billion barrels of oil and nearly 10,000 billion cubic feet of natural gas, presenting tantalising prospects for oil and gas exploration. Companies from China, Spain, Brazil and Canada are already staking claim to these vast resources with exploration components. Companies in US cities such as Corpus Christi, Texas, are perfectly positioned to support Cuba’s energy economy and profit from an economic opening – should politics allow it. The Obama Administration recently softened some US travel restrictions to Cuba. A trade embargo remains in place.

Kiewit, the world’s largest offshore rig manufacturer, has its offshore services facility based in Corpus Christi. Officials maintain that Kiewit could literally have Cuba’s energy economy online in weeks, shipping key energy components from the city’s port.

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Another potential player is Corpus Christi-headquartered Bay Ltd, with offices and operations throughout the US Gulf coast, Latin America, Canada, and other international locations. Bay Ltd specialises in engineering and building major infrastructure projects for petrochemical and other industry groups. This includes building roads, highways, bridges and marine facilities for local, state and federal governments as well as private industry.

“One thing we do a lot of is modulation,” says Ed Martin, CEO of Bay Ltd. “There’s opportunities in this field for companies like ours as Cuba comes online.”

Bay Ltd often works in remote locations where labour costs or recruitment is problematic. Currently, the company is involved in projects in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Mr Martin believes Cuba offers great potential. “Gulf coast contractors could provide things easily for them,” he says.

That’s because they can ship equipment via barge from Corpus Christi.

“Water is the cheapest form of transportation,” he says. “And the Gulf coast labour force in that type of market is among the best qualified in the world. It is well-trained and familiar with oil and gas, and offshore rigs.”

Getting in on the action

Corpus Christi is already a major petrochemical port for Valero, Citgo and Flint Hills, among other refineries. Already port officials there have been lobbying the US Congress to exempt energy products from the embargo.

“We have plans for an energy conference later this year that would extol the virtues of allowing the export of energy technology, energy equipment and know-how to Cuba,” says Ruben Bonilla, Corpus Christi Port chairman. “Because of the embargo, Cuba has to rely on Europe, China and Canada for its energy resourcefulness.”

The expansion of the Panama Canal will also change trans-shipment in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Mr Bonilla projects that once that project is completed in 2014, there will be a surge of Chinese trade and commerce circumventing the canal.

“It would be foolish of America to be standing idle while trans-shipments are unloaded at Havana,” says Mr Bonilla. “We need to increase trade and take full advantage of the Panama Canal expansion by allowing bilateral trade throughout Caribbean.”

Brazil just announced a $100m loan to Cuba to allow for the expansion of Cuba’s Port Mariel. The port is expected to be an exclusive petrochemical port. “The Cubans are preparing for what they believe to be the ultimate rejuvenation because they believe those oil reserves will be plentiful,” he says.