SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

The World

March 11, 2011

Florida wary of potential oil drilling near Cuba

NAPLES, Fla. — 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 turn 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 Pinon, 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, Pinon 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," Pinon said.

During a stop in Southwest Florida last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is concerned about how drilling in Cuban waters could affect Florida.

Salazar said Repsol is briefing the Interior Department about what he called "potential drilling off Cuba" and, "We are monitoring what's happening in Cuban waters carefully."

Florida lawmakers are scrambling to respond to Cuba's plans.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., has introduced a bill that would give the Interior Department power to reject oil and gas leases in U.S. waters to any company doing business with an embargoed nation, like Cuba.

Repsol has oil leases in the western Gulf of Mexico off Texas and Louisiana, according to Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., a co-sponsor of Buchanan's bill.

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