Monday, October 17, 2011

Havana fit over Cuba oil drilling

Havana fit over Cuba oil drilling
Last Updated: 7:11 AM, October 17, 2011

It's a sure-fire recipe for disaster -- Cuban oil mixing with Florida's

The Obama administration is frantically gearing up for the start of
Cuba's controversial off-shore oil drilling in December, worried that a
spill would create an environmental catastrophe for Florida's coastline,
officials told The Post.

Adding to US concerns over a possible BP-like disaster for Florida is
the lack of relations between the federal government and Cuba's
Communist regime -- which would make the United States' ability to
prevent or deal with such an accident even more difficult, the officials
The Scarabeo 9 oil rig will be anchored off the north coast of Cuba and
operated by Respol, a Spanish firm.
The Scarabeo 9 oil rig will be anchored off the north coast of Cuba and
operated by Respol, a Spanish firm.

"People are crazy over this. It's a very big problem," said an Obama
administration source. "They're talking about drilling off Cuba, but the
way currents flow, the oil would hit Florida."

Federal and environmental authorities have been huddling behind closed
doors for months to come up with a plan for dealing with the start of
the drilling -- some of which could occur just 50 miles off Florida's shore.

Cuba is currently awaiting the arrival of its first oil platform from
Singapore before starting to drill.

The Spanish company Respol will operate the rig -- the first of many --
in Cuban waters in the Florida Straits due south of Florida.

Tomorrow, the Obama administration is scheduled to brief Congress on its
plan to deal with the tense issue -- as memories of the massive BP spill
from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico last year are still
looming large in everyone's minds.

The State Department has taken the lead in assembling the plan -- but
officials in the departments of Homeland Security and the Interior and
the Coast Guard and the EPA have also been wringing their hands over the

The groups' talks come months after the Obama administration OK'd the
resumption of deep-water drilling in parts of the Gulf off the US coast
after the Louisiana disaster.

But the United States has never allowed domestic offshore oil rigs in
its own waters off Florida's coastline, in large part because of
concerns that an accident or pollution could wreak havoc with the
state's valued tourism industry, including the environmentally sensitive

But now Florida will face that very threat, because Cuba's cash-strapped
dictatorship is eager to tap into -- and profit from -- what could be up
to 20 billion barrels of petroleum spread under 43,000 square miles of
ocean floor.

"We're worried, from an environmental standpoint, because Florida's
waters are environmentally sensitive . . . Everyone's very concerned
about the Keys and Everglades," said Jeff Tittel, a senior official with
the Sierra Club.

"For [Cuba], this is a big economic boom. And they don't get the
pollution [threat]," Tittel said.

To deal with a spill that could threaten Florida -- and possibly waters
as far up the coast as North Carolina -- US officials could
theoretically let Cuba or its drilling partners tap into a $1 billion
fund the United States maintains to deal with such accidents. But
hardliners in Congress would be expected to fight against that.

American oil companies actually want to get in on the Cuban drilling
themselves, but they need to get the US government's approval first.

They have argued that they should be allowed to drill off Cuba's coast
because they are best equipped to deal with any potential spills.

But administration officials are stuck politically, because Florida's
influential Cuban-exile community strongly opposes additional economic
interaction with Cuba.

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