NAPLES — 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.">NAPLES — 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.">

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NAPLES — 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 door step, 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 affect Florida.

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 said.

So is Congress, where Florida lawmakers are scrambling to respond to Cuba’s plans.

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 Cuba.

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.

Fast facts

The rig will tap reserves off Cuba’s north coast, which the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated contains almost 5 billion barrels of oil.

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.

The bill also directs the Interior Department and Department of State to make recommendations to Congress about a multinational plan with Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas to respond to oil spills beyond U.S. waters.

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, issued a statement last week, saying that what other countries do in their waters “is their business.”

“However, American business that supports the Cuban government should not be permitted to do so,” the statement said.

Repsol plans to use an Italian-owned, Chinese-built rig to drill its exploratory well, Piñon said. The rig is undergoing sea trials in Singapore and could be delivered to Cuba in June or July, he said.

Piñon said it cost $700 million to build the rig, known as the Scarabeo 9, and Repsol is leasing it for $403,000 per day.

It will tap reserves off Cuba’s north coast, which the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated contains almost 5 billion barrels of oil.

Piñon said Repsol tapped the edge of the reserves in 2004, whetting the company’s appetite to come back, but difficulty working around the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has slowed the company’s return.

Source: www.marconews.com/news/2011/feb/21/cuba-oil-drilling-florida-keys-repsol...


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