Effort launched to block Cuban oil drilling close to Keys
April 28, 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Bill Nelson today unveiled legislation aimed at preventing Cuba from further oil drilling just 45 miles off Florida.
“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,” said Nelson, a leader in the fight to prevent U.S. oil companies from drilling off Florida in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nelson’s new legislation would prevent the Bush administration from renewing a 1977 international agreement that allows Cuba to conduct commercial activity near the Keys – unless the administration gets an agreement that prevents Cuba from putting oil rigs close to Florida. It was last year that wildcatters from Canada, Spain and other countries signed agreements with Fidel Castro to explore for oil off the island’s northwest shores.
So far, there have been no significant finds of commercially viable oil. Yet some members of Congress now are citing Cuba’s plans to drill close to Florida as justification for their proposal to allow U.S. oil companies to drill 20 miles off Florida’s Gulf coast.
Nelson, along with U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, is involved in an ongoing effort to protect Florida’s coast from the ravages of oil drilling. The two senators filed bipartisan legislation in February to block an oil-industry’s assault in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Their bill set the drilling boundary no closer than 150 miles from the Panhandle and about 260 miles from the west coast.
Besides getting rid of the 1977 agreement with Cuba, the new legislation Nelson filed Thursday afternoon also would allow the administration to punish executives of foreign oil companies who continue drilling off the northern coast of Cuba. The secretary of state could deny them visas and curb their ability to conduct business here. This borrows from the existing Helms-Burton law that denies visas to executives of foreign companies that invest in properties seized by Cuba after the 1959 revolution. U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business in Cuba under the separate decades-old trade embargo.
Under current law, the U.S. claims control of all waters 200 miles off its coasts. In 1977, however, the U.S. and Cuba negotiated a line equally dividing control of the 90 miles of sea between the Florida Keys and the island nation. But the Senate never ratified the international agreement as a treaty; and, it has only been renewed every two years by the State Department. It expired Jan. 1 this year; and, the administration hasn’t yet renewed it, according to the Office of Cuban Affairs at the State Department. Absent a clear agreement on maritime boundaries, multinational corporations may be more reluctant to invest the millions of dollars needed to explore for oil in a disputed area, Nelson said.