Saturday, April 29, 2006

Senate bill would block Cuba from drilling near Florida Keys

Posted on Fri, Apr. 28, 2006

Senate bill would block Cuba from drilling near Florida Keys
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WASHINGTON - As part of a campaign to fend off energy production near
the coast of Florida, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is trying to block Cuban
contractors from drilling in the environmentally sensitive waters just
south of the Florida Keys.

The prospect of Cuban drilling alarms environmentalists who fear that an
oil spill would swiftly follow the prevailing ocean current through the
Florida Straits and around the southeast coast, threatening beaches all
along South Florida.

"This is home to sea turtles, sperm whales, a number of charismatic
species in serious jeopardy," said Mark Ferrulo, director of Florida
PIRG, an advocacy group strongly opposed to offshore drilling. "The
potential impact of a spill and the speed with which it would be brought
to the southeast beaches is extremely alarming."

Cuba has contracted with companies from Canada, Spain and China to
explore reserves off the island's northwest shores. A stream of oil
revenue would bolster Cuba's fragile economy and give the Cuban
government leverage in international relations.

Cuba so far has not found enough good-quality oil to justify the expense
of production. But the prospect of rigs just 45 miles from the Keys has
entered the debate in Washington over U.S. energy policy.

Nelson introduced a bill on Thursday that would prevent the Bush
administration from renewing a 1977 agreement that allows Cuba to do
business near the Keys, unless the Cuban government agrees to stop
drilling in the area. The bill also would allow the U.S. secretary of
state to deny travel visas to executives of foreign oil companies that
are exploring the north coast of Cuba.

Citing environmental concerns, Nelson, D-Fla., and most Florida members
of Congress are trying to prevent oil-and-gas drilling within 150 miles
of the entire Florida coastline, including natural gas reserves in the
eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"At risk are the Florida Keys and the state's tourism economy, not to
mention the $8 billion that Congress is investing to restore the
Everglades," Nelson said.

Drilling proponents in this country cite the Cuban example to call
attention to what they consider the illogic of restricting access to
offshore areas when supplies are low and fuel prices high.

"Cuba may drill within 50 miles of Florida, but Canada drills just as
close off the coasts of several other states," said Rep. John Peterson,
R-Pa., who favors drilling for natural gas near Florida and other
restricted areas.

He said Nelson's bill appears to be an empty gesture because he cannot
dictate Cuba's energy policy.

"If we're able to unilaterally end the Cuban offshore drilling program,"
Peterson said, "we should, while we're at it, require the formal
abdication of Fidel Castro and the full and swift adoption of democracy
for the island's 11 million repressed people."

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