By Eric Staats Naples Daily News
Posted February 22, 2011 at 5:10 p.m.
Florida was on edge last summer as oil spewed from the blown out
Deepwater Horizon well in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
This summer, Florida could be turning a wary eye in a different
direction: south toward Cuba.
That's when Spanish oil giant Repsol could begin drilling an exploratory
oil well off the northern coast of Cuba, some 20 miles north of Havana
and 60 miles south of a point between Key West and the Marquesas Keys,
said oil industry expert Jorge Piñon, a visiting research fellow at the
Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami.
That's closer than oil rigs can get to Florida under U.S. law, which
prohibits rigs in U.S. waters within 125 miles of the Panhandle and
keeps them as far as 250 miles away from the rest of the state's shoreline.
Cuba's plans risk leaving the United States hamstrung to respond to
another oil calamity, this time on South Florida's doorstep, Piñon said.
"I think it's totally ridiculous that Cuba is about to drill for oil and
we don't have a plan for what to do in case of an emergency," Piñon
said. "To me, that's totally asinine."
During a stop in Southwest Florida last week, Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar said he is concerned about how drilling in Cuban waters could
Salazar said Repsol is briefing the Interior Department about what he
called "potential drilling off Cuba."
"We are monitoring what's happening in Cuban waters carefully," Salazar
So is Congress, where Florida lawmakers are scrambling to respond to
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has introduced a bill that would
give the Interior Department the power to reject oil and gas leases in
U.S. waters to any company doing business with an embargoed nation, like
Repsol has oil leases in the western Gulf of Mexico off Texas and
Louisiana, according to U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, whose district
includes eastern Collier County. Rivera is a co-sponsor of Buchanan's bill.
U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced bills to deny visas and
entry into the United States to executives of oil companies that want to
drill in Cuba.
He also has tried unsuccessfully to convince the White House to drop a
1977 maritime boundary agreement with Cuba that was never ratified by
the Senate but forms the basis of Cuba's claims that it can drill for
oil within 45 miles of Key West.
Piñon said such legislative efforts miss the need to establish a
protocol with Cuba to help it respond to an oil spill in its waters.
Nelson introduced a bill late last week that comes closer to that tack.
It would require any company drilling in Cuban waters that wants to
drill for oil or gas in U.S. waters to first prove they can respond to a
"worst-case scenario oil discharge" in Cuba.
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