Calls for drilling off Florida in effort to reduce soaring fuel costs

Link to article here.

The U.S. is falling behind China in shoring up the world’s oil supply. We’re going to need Florida’s oil a lot more to come close to meeting demand and before we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Alan Greenspan said to get busy on developing more affordable alternative fuels since gas prices are hurting our economy, so let’s get busy!

Cuba oil probe spurs calls for U.S. drilling

By Patrice Hill
July 26, 2006

Congressional proponents of oil and gas drilling are pointing to Cuba’s exploration off the coast of Florida — with help from China — as a prime reason to open up U.S. drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
But Florida legislators continue to resist, and some of them are trying to stop Cuba’s activities by pushing to rescind a 1977 treaty dividing the Straits of Florida halfway between the two countries.
The Bush administration, with an eye toward the pivotal role Florida has played in presidential politics and out of solidarity with President Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has largely sided with Florida in the dispute. It supports only very limited drilling off the coast of Florida, as would be permitted under a bill pending in the Senate.
“American politics today — it is the no-drill zone,” said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.
“We sit here watching China exploit a valuable resource within eyesight of the U.S. coast,” he said, noting that one 2005 U.S. Geological Survey estimated the North Cuba Basin may contain as much oil as the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska.
“I am certain the American public would be shocked, as this country is trying to reduce our dependency on Middle East oil, that countries like China are realizing this energy resource,” Mr. Craig said.
“This is a pocketbook issue, not a political issue. Whole regions of the Gulf are not available for drilling today,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who has sought to find ways to expand exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
“What is happening? Fidel Castro in Cuba is partnering with China and is moving forward. … He can drill, but we cannot. He can take the money and fund his adventures around South and Central America. … Is that what people would like to see?”
Congressional policies since the 1970s have fostered fuel consumption, he said, but at the same time prohibit further drilling domestically for the sake of the environment.
The result has been growing dependence on oil imports, which now provide more than half the fuel Americans use, although legislators routinely denounce the nation’s reliance on “foreign oil” when they renew the ban on domestic drilling.
The Senate this week is expected to try one more time to break the impasse over drilling in the eastern Gulf with a bill that would open up a key tract to exploration but provide a 125-mile no-drilling buffer zone for Florida.
News last winter that Cuba has hopes of finding commercially viable reserves of oil in the Straits of Florida helped to nudge Florida’s senators toward endorsing the Senate bill after years of opposing any drilling at all, congressional aides said. But Florida legislators in Congress continue to oppose any broad new exploration activities in state waters.
Mr. Craig said drilling advocates sought to alert Congress this spring to Cuba’s activities. But rather than reconsider the U.S. drilling ban, he said, drilling opponents dug in their heels and tried to stop Cuba, too.
“Do we want to emulate the actions of nations like Cuba and China? Do we want the Florida Straits dotted with oil rigs?” asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat. “I think not.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, introduced legislation to prevent the Bush administration from renewing a maritime treaty that enables Cuba to conduct commercial activities in its half of the Straits — unless the administration gets an agreement that prevents Cuba from putting oil rigs close to Florida.
The treaty carves an exception to the 200-mile boundary of control the U.S. claims in its coastal waters. It was never ratified by the Senate, so it must be renewed every two years by the State Department. It expired in January.
If the U.S. abandons the treaty, Mr. Nelson reasons, the Straits of Florida would become disputed waters and multinational oil companies would be reluctant to invest the money needed to explore for oil there. His bill would further discourage drilling by authorizing the administration to punish executives of foreign oil companies that continue to drill off the northern coast of Cuba by denying them visas.
“So far, there have been no significant finds of commercially viable oil. Yet some members of Congress now are citing Cuba’s plans to drill close to Florida as justification for their proposal to allow U.S. oil companies to drill 20 miles off Florida’s Gulf coast,” he said.
Still, Mr. Nelson concedes that drilling proponents are making headway as the public fumes over record high fuel prices. “With several drilling proposals pending before Congress, our state’s unique environment and tourism-driven economy are in more jeopardy now than ever before,” he said.
Mr. Nelson on Monday renewed his vow to stop any drilling legislation that goes further than the Senate bill. A House bill would allow far more aggressive drilling in the outer continental shelf off Florida and elsewhere in the Gulf, if state legislatures vote to permit it. But it also would permit the Florida Legislature to ban drilling up to 100 miles offshore — a provision widely supported by Florida’s congressional delegation.