Sunday, 12 June 2011

US senators pressure Spain to block Cuba oil drilling

Nelson seeking pressure to stop drilling off Cuba
Source:, 27 May 2011.

The impending arrival of a huge semi-submersible oil rig just 50 miles from Key West this summer has lawmakers scrambling to find 11th-hour solutions to stop the Cuban-sponsored drilling operation, which could begin by September.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been trying unsuccessfully through legislation and the lobbying of two presidential administrations to stop Spanish oil and gas company Repsol from drilling more than 6,500 feet below the surface of the Straits of Florida since the project's plans were made public more than three years ago.

Florida's senior senator now hopes the U.S. State Department can convince the Spanish government to put enough pressure on Repsol that the company abandons its plans in the Northwest Cuban Basin.

He's even asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express concerns to Spain that the United States has about a foreign oil-drilling operation so close to its shores.

In a letter he sent Clinton on Thursday, May 19, Nelson wrote, I am asking that you raise this crucial issue with your counterparts in the current Spanish government and impress upon them the urgency of this situation. Oil drilling is coming at the behest of Cuba s communist regime, eager to benefit from any offshore oil resources. And by partnering with Cuba, Repsol is acting contrary to U.S. interests in the hemisphere.

The goal of the letter is to delay drilling until early next year, when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government may be taken over by the country s center-right Popular Party, which is less sympathetic to Cuba's Communist regime. Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley said the senator hopes a conservative government may not allow Repsol to do business with Cuba. We re looking to Hillary Clinton to apply enough pressure on the Spanish government to allow us to buy some time, Gulley said.

Nelson isn't the only Florida lawmaker taking action as the drilling operation looks to be an inevitability. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose constituency includes the Keys, said this week she will reintroduce legislation this session aimed at preventing the Cuban regime from becoming the oil tycoons of the Caribbean.

Nelson and Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade Republican, are specifically responding to reports that construction of the large Chinese-made oil rig is almost complete and will be leaving a Singapore shipyard by June. The rig, named the Scarabeo 9, will likely begin drilling for oil by late summer or early fall. It will be positioned about 40 to 50 miles from Key West.

Another Florida congressman, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, introduced a bill a month ago that would punish oil companies doing business with Cuba by directing the U.S. Interior secretary to deny them American oil permits.

Nelson introduced a similar bill in 2008. He also urged the Bush and Obama administrations not to renew an accord that must be agreed to every two years that involves maritime boundaries within the 90 miles of water separating the United States and Cuba unless the island nation gives up its oil drilling plans. Neither administration was willing to go that route, Gulley said.

House Foreign Affairs chair seeks to block Cuban oil development
Source: The, 27 May 2011.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced legislation this week aimed at making it more difficult for Cuba to develop its petroleum industry. It would do so by imposing new sanctions against entities that invest in Cuba's oil sector.

Ros-Lehtinen's bill comes in the midst of a debate within the U.S. about whether and how the U.S. should develop its own petroleum resources, one that has seen Republicans call for increased drilling in the outer continental shelf.

Her bill, H.R. 2047, is called the Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Act, and Ros-Lehtinen pointed out that Cuban offshore oil exploration could occur in waters that are "dangerously close to the Florida Keys." But Ros-Lehtinen made it clear this week that the primary purpose of the bill is to ensure that the Castro regime cannot turn its offshore oil resources into a financial resource via outside investors.

"Desperate for new channels of funding, the Cuban tyranny will say and do anything to persuade others to invest in its oil sector in order to stay afloat," she said. "We cannot allow the Castro regime to become the oil tycoons of the Caribbean. I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to prevent oil drilling by the Cuban regime, which poses a national security and environmental threat to the United States."

The bill would deny U.S. entry visas to any foreign officer, principal or controlling shareholder of a company that invests $1 million in Cuba's petroleum industry. This sanction would apply for any investments made on or after January 10, 2005. It would also direct the president to impose sanctions on people who invest in Cuba's petroleum sector, and make it illegal for any U.S. national to help Cuba develop its offshore oil resources.