Florida lawmakers' hopes of thwarting Cuba's offshore drilling ambitions by isolating it from oil companies that do business in the United States is shortsighted political posturing that won't work. Florida would be better served if Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, instead of pandering to the hard-line Cuban immigrant community, focused on ensuring Cuba has the best spill-prevention and recovery technology. Just as the Cuban embargo has failed, so will attempts to dictate whether Cuba drills.
That's not to say Floridians should be happy about Cuba's plans to drill a 5,600-foot well — deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April — about 22 miles north of Havana and 65 miles south of Marquesas Keys, part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Spanish energy giant Repsol, which drilled an exploratory well in Cuba in 2004, has a contract to drill the first of several exploratory wells. And a semisubmersible rig is being built in Singapore for use in Cuba.
Floridians are all too aware what can happen to the state's tourism and fishing industries after an oil spill. The Deepwater spill confirmed that oil doesn't even need to come ashore in great quantities for the entire state's economy to feel the pain. But it's also naive to think the United States can stop Cuba's drilling plans just by putting pressure on oil industry executives and companies with interests in both the United States and Cuba.
Buchanan is proposing Washington deny oil and gas leases to any company involved in Cuba's oil drilling operations. And Nelson wants to reintroduce legislation to pull the visas for executives of such companies. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also supports sanctions on companies involved in Cuba's operations.
But energy exploration is a global business, a fact underscored last year when crews from around the globe — from Argentina to Qatar, Belgium to Russia — flocked to the Gulf of Mexico after our nation's emergency plans proved wholly inadequate. The United States, while a dominant player in the industry and the major consumer, does not have unilateral clout. Nor does it have credibility to claim the moral high ground when its lapses in safeguarding the environment from oil drilling have just played out in the gulf.
Nelson, Buchanan and Ros-Lehtinen would better serve Florida by focusing their efforts on pushing the White House to reach a cooperative spill response agreement with Cuba, as suggested last month by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill co-chaired by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham. Otherwise, the United States risks isolating Cuba so much that it is forced to partner with only the most irresponsible players in the energy industry. And that would be an even greater threat to Florida's coastline.