The top Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday said she wants to stop Cuba from drilling for oil in waters 45 miles (72 km) from Key West, Florida.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said Cuba’s drilling plans could endanger her state’s pristine beaches—a prime driver of its tourist economy—and endanger the only living coral reef in North America.
“It is totally unacceptable that the Cuban regime be allowed to drill for oil just 45 miles from our shores,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The consequences of a spill are disastrous.”
Drilling for oil and natural gas off Florida has been banned for 25 years, even though there are sizable deposits in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
But Cuban leader Fidel Castro opened 43,250 square miles (112,000 square kms) of offshore waters to foreign exploration in 1999, even though U.S. companies are barred from participating because of trade sanctions enforced since 1962 against Communist Castro’s revolutionary government.
Cuba has partnerships with four foreign companies including ones from India and Canada to explore Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters.
Ros-Lehtinen said she will introduce legislation next week aimed at stopping the drilling plan. She did not give any details about how her legislation would accomplish the task, or if the plan would comply with international trade rules.
About 6,000 coral reefs stretch from Key Biscayne to Dry Tortugas off the tip of Florida.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the North Cuba basin could contain some 4.6 billion barrels of oil, with a high-end potential of 9.3 billion barrels.
Cuba produces 60,000 barrels per day of poor-quality oil and imports about 98,000 bpd of oil and derivatives from its ally Venezuela.