U.S. Senator: Drilling Offshore Cuba Could 'Desecrate' Florida

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is pressing the White House to abandon a decades-old offshore boundary agreement with Cuba that he alleges will allow oil projects off Cuba's coast that could threaten his state's environment.

In a letter to President Bush yesterday, Nelson said that news reports of an exploration agreement signed this month between Cuba and Brazil's state-controlled oil company reveal dangers to Florida. The letter also cites other oil exploration plans by foreign companies in Cuban waters.

"Soon, there could be oil rigs within 50 miles of the Florida Keys and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary," the letter states. "And, as the Gulf Stream flows, an oil spill or other drilling accident would desecrate part of Florida's unique environment and devastate its $50 billion tourism-driven economy."

Nelson has in the past introduced legislation that would nullify the 1977 boundary agreement that evenly divides the 90 miles of sea between the Florida Keys and Cuba. Nelson believes that U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would stall exploration plans by foreign companies and envisions the agreement being renegotiated with a future democratic government of Cuba in a manner that keeps oil rigs far from Florida's waters, a spokesman for Nelson said.

The letter yesterday says the agreement is enforced by exchange of diplomatic notes every two years. "My staff informs me the State Department has sent the latest such notes, but that they have not been received yet by the Cuban government," the letter states. "So, I am writing to urge you to recall these notes. I am sure you agree that we cannot allow Cuba to put at risk Florida's major business and irreplaceable environment."

The White House could not be reached for comment.

According to the Associated Press and Reuters, Cuba reached a deal in mid-January with Brazilian state oil company Petrobras to conduct deepwater exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off Cuba's coast.

Companies from Spain, Canada, India and Malaysia already have exploration contracts with Cuba, according to AP.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the North Cuba Basin may contain 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

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