Friday, September 30, 2011

Lawmakers warn against oil drilling off Cuba

Posted on Wednesday, 09.28.11
Lawmakers warn against oil drilling off Cuba
A group of lawmakers warned a Spanish company against drilling for oil
off the coast of Cuba, saying the investment would benefit the Castro
By Erika Bolstad
WASHINGTON -- Thirty-four U.S. lawmakers, led by Miami Republican Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, on Wednesday asked the Spanish oil company Repsol
to keep out of Cuban waters, saying the company's pending offshore
drilling plans would support the Castro regime and "bankroll the
apparatus that violently crushes dissent."
"The decaying Cuban regime is desperately reaching out for an economic
lifeline, and it appears to have found a willing partner in Repsol to
come to its rescue," wrote Ros-Lehtinen.
The company says it could begin exploratory drilling as soon as
December, a prospect that has the state and federal governments
scrambling to develop contingency plans for a spill even as many
Floridians have fresh memories of last year's BP spill in the Gulf of
"We are working on spill response and we're working with the federal,
state, and local agencies — very closely," said U.S. Coast Guard
spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo.
The possibility of exploratory drilling also has federal agencies
grappling with the international and political implications on the U.S.
embargo with Cuba.
Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned
Repsol in the letter that any drilling operations it conducts in Cuban
waters could provide direct financial benefit to the Castro
dictatorship. The company's partnership with the Cuban regime could
also violate U.S. law, and may run afoul of pending legislation in
Congress, she said.
Recently, representatives from several industry and environmental groups
traveled to Cuba to check in on the country's offshore plans. They
included Lee Hunt, the chief executive of the International Association
of Drilling Contractors and William Reilly, a former EPA administrator
and co-chair of the White House task force that investigated last year's
BP oil spill.
The group also included Richard Sears, the former vice president of
deepwater drilling for Shell, and Dan Whittle, an attorney for the
Environmental Defense Fund.
Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix said the company has no comment on the
letter from Congress.
The company, which has U.S. operations that include leases in the Arctic
waters off the northern Alaska coastline, is in the process of bringing
a drilling rig to Cuba.
Repsol in January 2010 signed a lease contract with the Italian energy
company Saipem for drilling equipment. Repsol on its website describes
the equipment as complying "with all the technical requirements and all
the limitations established by the U.S. administration for drilling
operations in Cuba."
The congressional letter drew bipartisan support, with South Florida
Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera, Tom Rooney signing
onto it; they were joined by Democrats Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson and
Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Others from Florida who signed on include
Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross and Sandy Adams.
The Republican-led House Natural Resources committee had scheduled a
hearing on drilling in Cuban waters for last week, but it was postponed
after Obama administration officials said they weren't yet prepared to
outline their overall response to offshore drilling in Cuba.
Some Republican members of the committee have complained in the past
about Cuba's ability to drill so close to the U.S. coastline even as a
125-mile buffer zone remains in place in U.S. waters off of most of
Florida's coast

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