Posted on Mon, Apr. 17, 2006
Drilling proposal called ‘insanity’
If Castro can drill near Florida’s coast, why shouldn’t the U.S., argues
a congressman who wants to expand energy exploration.
By LESLEY CLARK
R-Pa., who has 150 co-sponsors of a bill that would allow natural-gas
drilling 20 miles off Florida’s coast
A Pennsylvania congressman who wants to drill for natural gas just 20
miles out from the nation’s shoreline has found a most unusual model:
Rep. John Peterson, who is trying mightily to lift the presidential and
congressional bans that protect much of the U.S. coastline from offshore
drilling, is citing Cuba’s fledgling energy-exploration program — and
its proximity to Florida’s coastline — as a reason the United States
should explore its own coast for natural gas.
‘It’s astounding we’re going to sit here and say, `We’re not going to
produce,’ and, meanwhile, our good friend Fidel Castro is going to suck
it up under our noses,” Peterson said in a phone interview, citing
reports that show Cuba is moving aggressively to explore waters
northeast and northwest of Havana, some parcels about 50 miles from Key
Cuba has signed agreements with companies in several countries,
including Spain, Canada and China, to explore potential oil and gas
fields offshore — where industry analysts have suggested there are at
least 1.6 billion barrels of crude-oil reserves. So far those
exploration efforts have proven disappointing, but efforts continue.
HALFWAY TO KEY WEST
Under a 1977 treaty, Cuba’s ”exclusive economic zone” — where it has
free rein to extract resources — extends about 50 miles from its own
coast, halfway between Cuba and Key West, in the Florida Straits, said
Kirby Jones, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, which
promotes the expansion of trade with Cuba.
Peterson is aiming his argument directly at Florida’s 27-member
congressional delegation, which he singles out for blocking efforts to
expand U.S. offshore energy exploration.
”Imagine what Castro is thinking as we spend our time quarreling over
whether we should produce American energy 100, 150 or 250 miles from the
Florida coast while he makes arrangements to set up shop hundreds of
miles closer,” Peterson wrote in a letter to The Miami Herald. “He
must love that we’ve allowed emotion to win out over reason, facts to be
dwarfed by fear and our nation’s energy policy to be driven by
unreasonable environmental concerns.”
But Peterson’s gambit has made little headway with the Florida
delegation, which opposes efforts to allow drilling in the Gulf of
Mexico on the grounds that drilling could mar Florida’s beaches and the
state’s tourism-dependent economy.
”That’s all the more reason we need protection,” Cuban-born Florida
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, said of Castro’s energy exploration.
“What it does, it redoubles my efforts to try to prevent it, not only
from drilling here, but from Castro.
”The insanity of someone suggesting that in the state of Florida you
should be drilling within 20 miles, that is crazy, that is just
completely off the wall,” Martinez said, suggesting that Peterson only
bolsters the Florida delegation’s call for a no-drill zone around the state.
‘He fortifies our position from the standpoint of saying `This is why
we’ve got to have a permanent buffer around the state of Florida,’ to
keep these people from Pennsylvania from coming down here,” Martinez said.
With energy costs soaring, Peterson’s push represents at least the third
serious bid to open up Florida waters to drilling: The Bush
administration’s Interior Department has proposed leasing more than two
million acres of Florida waters in the Gulf of Mexico to energy
companies and a Senate proposal would open up an even greater section of
Martinez and his Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are
pushing legislation that would open up a smaller area in exchange for a
150-mile buffer and Nelson has threatened to block the Senate
pro-drilling legislation, as well as the Senate’s confirmation of
Interior Secretary nominee Dirk Kempthorne.
Peterson, who argues that the United States has some of the highest
natural-gas prices in the world, has filed legislation to lift the
current moratorium on drilling off the Outer Continental Shelf and open
it up to natural-gas exploration outside 20 miles.
”Twelve miles is out of sight,” Peterson said of oil rigs, “so 20
miles is a cushion.”
Environmentalists are watching Peterson’s bill warily, noting it has
more than 150 co-sponsors from both parties, and Peterson has been
granted a hearing by the chairman of the House Resources Committee.
”The [Florida] delegation is united against it, as are most coastal
states, but he has a promise it will be heard, so we’re not taking it
lightly,” said Mark Ferrulo, director of the Florida Public Interest
Research Group. “We’re thinking it might only be a starting position
According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, the island nation in 1999
began to seriously develop its own domestic-energy program, leasing
exploration rights in its territorial waters to foreign companies
because it does not have the technology to drill offshore.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information
Administration, Cuba’s mostly onshore oil production is on the rise:
from 18,000 barrels a day in 1992 to 84,000 barrels currently.
U.S. companies are prevented from doing business with the island nation
by the U.S. embargo against Cuba, though food and medicine is regularly
sold, but Jones said Cuba has made it clear it has “no reluctance to
sit down and talk with any U.S. company interested in exploring.”
And many are: Executives from U.S. giants including ExxonMobil Corp.,
Caterpillar and Valero Energy Corp., one of the largest refiners in the
U.S., each paid close to $2,000 to attend a meeting in Mexico in
February to learn more about Cuba’s potentially lucrative reserves.
”As Florida has been debating a buffer for the last year, all of that
could be moot,” Jones said.
“In Cuban waters there may be oil platforms within 52 miles of Key West.”