Cuba, China Drilling for Oil 50 Miles from Florida Shores

Published August 1, 2006

Legislation to relax restrictions on offshore oil and gas recovery passed the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee on June 21 by a vote of 29-9.

House Resolution 4761, with more than 160 co-sponsors, gained significant attention after Cuba announced it would expand its leasing of oil and natural gas for Chinese drilling within 50 miles of the Florida Keys.

The House legislation would end all federal moratoria on resource recovery more than 100 miles from U.S. shores. Individual states would have the option of allowing recovery between 50 and 100 miles from their shores.

Currently, there is no blanket federal prohibition on resource recovery more than 100 miles from shore, but there are patchwork prohibitions established on a case-by-case basis. There is currently a blanket moratorium on resource recovery less than 100 miles from shore. These restrictions amount to a self-imposed moratorium on 85 percent of the nation’s offshore oil reserves.

China Drilling Near Florida

The presence of Chinese oil rigs, there by agreement with Cuba, within view of the Florida coastline has irked state residents. Cuba has announced it will expand those operations.

“I saw all kinds of wells with Chinese writing on them just south of the Keys,” Leonard Gropper, a Marathon, Florida retiree, told the June 20 Orlando Sun-Sentinel.

With just 90 miles separating Cuba and the Florida Keys, Cuba has legal rights to oil and natural gas reserves in its half of the Florida Strait. Cuba can, therefore, produce or lease for production oil and natural gas reserves as close as 45 miles from U.S. shores.

“China is trying to lock up resources around the world, and they are locking up resources in our own backyard where we can’t even compete and play ball,” Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) told the Sun-Sentinel. “This is simply wrong. I’ve had enough, and I believe the American people have had enough.”

Needs Are Changing

The U.S. moratorium was imposed during the 1990s when oil prices were low and the need for new production seemed distant. Those days are long gone, observes Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman.

“While fears of environmental damage trumped price concerns in the 1990s, times have changed. Technological advances have greatly reduced environmental risks, and oil prices are much higher now and do not appear likely to appreciably decline any time soon,” said Lieberman.

“The changing nature of the situation is being driven home very starkly with the [construction] of Chinese oil rigs within sight of U.S. shores,” Lieberman added. “The Chinese can drill within sight of our coastline, but we cannot. In fact, we cannot drill even twice as far away from the U.S. coastline as the Chinese do. This does not sit well with many people in Florida.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.