Congress Mixed on Cuba's Gulf Drilling


"Only one of the companies lined up to drill near Cuba has U.S. leases."

Hearst Newspapers, Jennifer Dlouhy

The U.S. relationship with Cuba has long been a touchy subject in Congress. Now, concerns about deepwater drilling set to begin just north of the nation have sparked fresh controversy.

Some lawmakers are staunch supporters of the trade embargo against Cuba and want to penalize any international oil companies that do business with the country.

Other lawmakers see commercial opportunities in Cuba's zeal to produce oil and gas along its gulf coast. They want to relax the embargo and give U.S. oil companies access to Cuba's potentially lucrative offshore resources and its emerging petroleum industry.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is in the first camp. Last month, she introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on companies that spend $1 million or more developing Cuba's offshore petroleum resources and block foreign principals from entering the U.S.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., is pushing legislation that would authorize the interior secretary to deny U.S. oil and gas leases and permits to companies that do business with Cuba or any other nation facing U.S. trade sanctions. Buchanan's legislation seeks to draw leverage from international oil companies' desire to drill in U.S. waters.

But of the companies lined up to drill near Cuba, only one has U.S. leases.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wants to use U.S. drilling leases as leverage, too—but his goal is to ensure that companies conducting oil and gas operations off the coast of Cuba give American regulators an oil spill response plan for their Cuban drilling operations and provide evidence they have the resources to clean up even the worst-case accident there.

Embargo foes on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, continue to push for an end to all trade sanctions against Cuba. Others propose a more targeted approach.

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