Cuba Explores for Oil as U.S. Watches

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"The U.S. and Mexico have been meeting to strengthen drilling standards, but Cuba has not been part of the talks."

Less than 75 miles off the Florida Keys, Cuba's plan to explore for oil and gas in waters even deeper than BP's Deepwater Horizon well has U.S. officials on alert.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acknowledged this past week that Cuba's oil and gas explorations are an "issue of concern.''

Spanish energy giant Repsol, which drilled an exploratory well in 2004, is expected to drill another five to seven such wells as soon as this fall, said Jorge Piñon, an energy expert and visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Piñon said the Cuban government is cognizant of its tourism-dependent economy and "is reviewing everything it can from the Deepwater Horizon." But he acknowledged the country doesn't have the assets to respond to a large-scale spill.

The U.S. and Mexico—which share the Gulf of Mexico with Cuba—have been meeting to strengthen drilling standards for the Gulf, but Cuba hasn't been part of the talks.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has talked with Repsol about its plans in Cuba, but agency director Michael Bromwich says there's no agreement on a drilling standard. He acknowledged U.S-Cuba policy makes direct talks difficult.

The presidential commission that investigated last year's BP spill recommended that Cuba and the United States talk about oil drilling.

A spokesman for the State Department says it hasn't held any discussions with the Cuban government on oil exploration.

Critics of further engagement with Cuba argue that Cuba has proposed offshore drilling for more than a decade without delivering.

"We've seen this dog-and-pony show for 10 years and the fact remains, there's no drilling," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of a leading pro-embargo lobby, the U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee.

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