A delegation of U.S. oil and environmental experts has traveled to Havana to advise counterparts there on how to avoid spills during deep-water drilling.

The group is headed by William Reilly, a former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who co-headed an investigative commission that probed the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reilly also helped prepare a report that recommended the U.S. government work with Mexico and Cuba to adopt and share oil-drilling standards with those countries to prevent future spills.

Also part of the delegation are specialists Daniel Whittle, of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

Whittle told reporters Wednesday that they are trying to "create a space" for a constructive dialogue on this matter with the Cuban authorities.

If Cuba is going to conduct offshore oil drilling, it is very important for it to be aware of what is needed for environmentally sound operations, Whittle said.

The U.S. experts said they have met with Basic Industry Minister Tomas Benitez and senior foreign ministry official Josefina Vidal.

The EDF expert said he was "optimistic" after the meetings with the Cuban officials, adding that the communist-ruled island is open to cooperating on environmental matters with the United States because they are "not as complicated" as other issues.

Whittle said deep-water drilling is very difficult and therefore there is much to learn before embarking on that venture, adding that Cuba is going to begin drilling this year with Spanish oil major Repsol-YPF, which "has experience" in that area.

Cuba's most promising oil region is the Exclusive Economic Zone, located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and estimated to hold between 5 billion and 9 billion barrels of petroleum.

The EEZ covers some 112,000 sq. kilometers (43,240 sq. miles) and is divided into 59 blocks of 2,000 sq. kilometers (772 sq. miles) each, 22 of which have been awarded to foreign companies such as Spain's Repsol-YPF, Venezuela's PDVSA and Vietnam's PetroVietnam.

Cuba oil officials say they are waiting for a rig built in China and Singapore and hired by Repsol before beginning drilling work in the EEZ.

They also have said the Repsol drilling in Cuba will offer the "same safety guarantees as the international oil community."

Cuba says studies carried out in recent years show more than 20 commercially significant drilling prospects in its Gulf waters.