Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Stearns' claim about Chinese oil drilling in Gulf of Mexico is half true

Longtime U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a proponent of increased oil and natural gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, says drilling may be coming near Florida's shores whether we like it or not.

"Cuba wants to let the Chinese drill in some of the very parts of the gulf that American producers are currently forbidden to touch, as close as 45 miles off the Florida coast," Stearns, R-Ocala, says on his campaign Web site.

Stearns' point — that if Cuba is going to drill anyway, why shouldn't we? — is obvious. But are his facts right?

First, some background. In 1977, Cuba and the United States negotiated maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico and the waters south of the Florida Keys, called the Florida Straits, according to the U.S. Department of State. The boundaries, called Exclusive Economic Zones, give countries special rights of exploration and marine usage. Mexico, Cuba and the United States have EEZs in the gulf, and Cuba and the United States control the Florida Straits.

When it comes to oil, Cuba decides who drills in its EEZ and oil that may come from it — and the United States controls who can drill in its territory.

The United States currently bans drilling in much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico (including waters within 234 miles of Tampa Bay), and all of its portion of the Florida Straits. But last week, President Barack Obama proposed to open new areas to oil and gas exploration along the eastern seaboard south of New Jersey and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico within 125 miles of Florida's coast. U.S. drilling would still be banned in the Florida Straits. .

Now onto Cuba, the heart of Stearns' claim.

Cuba's maritime boundary in the Florida Straits extends to within 45 miles of the Keys, as Stearns suggests. Cuba has no drilling moratorium.

Its EEZ is broken down into 59 areas. In 2002, Cuba's state-run oil company, Cubapetroleo, started leasing individual areas to foreign oil companies in both the Florida Straits and the Gulf of Mexico for exploration.

So far, Cuba has leased 15 of the 59 areas, said Jorge Pinon, a former oil executive with Shell and Amoco who is an expert on Cuba's energy sector and a former energy fellow with the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy. The waters closest to the United States have not yet been leased.

Who holds the rights to the areas? Oil and gas companies based in Spain, Norway, India, Malaysia, Venezuela, Vietnam and Brazil. But not China.

China has an onshore, land-based lease in Cuba but not an offshore lease, Pinon said.

A February 2008 analysis by the Congressional Research Service backs this up. "While there has been some concern about China's potential involvement in offshore deepwater oil projects," the report read, "to date its involvement in Cuba's oil sector has been focused on onshore oil extraction."

However, that could be changing. The China National Petroleum Corp. is negotiating a lease for four areas in the waters northwest of Cuba, Pinon said. The areas under negotiation are among those northwest of Cuba, farther away from the United States.

Is there drilling happening, now? "No," Pinon said.

Here's why: The decades-old embargo between the United States and Cuba makes oil production much more difficult for Cuba. Under terms of the embargo, Cuba would not be able to send its oil to the United States to be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products. And the companies drilling off Cuba's coast wouldn't be able to rely on American parts and machinery for drilling.

Trying to link China and Cuba when talking U.S. oil policy is nothing new. In 2008, then-Vice President Dick Cheney told directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that "oil is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. But we're not doing it, the Chinese are, in cooperation with the Cuban government."

Cheney, who said the information came from a column by George Will, later walked back his remarks. So did Will, as part of a correction.

Stearns' congressional office, realizing Cheney's misstatement, noted that Stearns said that "Cuba wants to let China" drill, not that China is drilling. The distinction is important. Spokesman Paul Flusche also said the information on Stearns' campaign Web site hasn't been updated since 2008, so the information could be out of date.

On this point, it really isn't.

Stearns said: "Cuba wants to let the Chinese drill in some of the very parts of the gulf that American producers are currently forbidden to touch, as close as 45 miles off the Florida coast."

Cuba is negotiating a lease with China for offshore oil exploration, but it's not in the "very parts of the gulf that American producers are currently forbidden to touch."

Still, he's right in suggesting Cuba could end up drilling closer to U.S. shores than America currently allows in its offshore waters.

The statement

"Cuba wants to let the Chinese drill in some of the very parts of the gulf that American producers are currently forbidden to touch, as close as 45 miles off the Florida coast."

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns,
R-Ocala, in a statement on his campaign Web site

The ruling

Cuba is negotiating a lease with China for offshore oil exploration, but not in American waters and not 45 miles from the Florida coast. We rule this Half True.

PolitiFact: Stearns' claim about Chinese oil drilling in Gulf of Mexico is half true 04/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 1:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Pete qualifying ends. Seven for mayor. Eight for District 6 on primary ballot

    Blogs

    The smiles of the faces of the workers in the City Clerk’s office said it all. The qualifying period for city elections was almost over.

    City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk  Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon
  2. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  3. Registered sexual predator charged in assault of woman in Brooksville

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County deputies arrested a registered sexual predator Thursday after they say he attempted to assault a woman and fled into a storm drain.

    Lee Roy Rettley has been charged with attempted homicide, attempted sexual battery and home invasion robbery.
  4. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags

    Autos

    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]
  5. Former CEO of Winn-Dixie parent joining Hong Kong company

    News

    The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Ian McLeod, has landed a new leadership role in Hong Kong. He is joining the pan-Asian based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. as group chief executive.

    Ian McLeod, who is stepping down as the CEO of the parent company of Winn-Dixie, has been hired by Dairy Farm International Holdings. 
[Photo courtesy of Southeastern Grocers]