Oil's existence off Cuba is not in doubt. Russian company Zarubezhneft is contracted to use a different rig to drill in shallower waters off Cayo Coco, a key Cuban tourist destination, later this month.
But the more promising deposits lie in the deep waters of the west.
The only way to get at them is to bring back the Scarabeo or build an entirely new rig, and the three failed holes plus the ongoing hassle of avoiding sanctions from the U.S. embargo will likely make companies think twice.
Pinon noted that the Repsol and Petronas wells were not dry holes, only that exploiting the oil there was not currently commercially viable due to the structure of the ocean floor and the porosity of the rock.
“If oil continues at over $100 and if the industry continues to learn and develop new technologies, they could probably come back to Cuba … and go for a second round,” he said.
Cuban drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had raised fears in the United States that a big spill could slick U.S. shores from the Keys to the Carolinas.
It also attracted heated criticism from anti-Castro exiles in Florida's Cuban-American community.
“The (U.S.) administration must finally wake up and see the truth that an oil rich Castro regime is not in our interests,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a recent statement.
Some cited Cuban oil exploration to argue for strengthening the embargo, which bans U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba and threatens sanctions against foreign firms if they don't play by its rules.
Others said it demonstrated the opposite: a need to ease the embargo so U.S. companies could more smoothly participate in disaster response to any spill.
Cuba has long campaigned for an end to the embargo, which remains in place despite 21 consecutive U.N. votes against it — most recently on Tuesday when the world's nations voted 188-3 to condemn the sanctions.