Is the U.S. Prepared for Offshore Drilling in Cuba?



Not to fear-monger or be reactionary here, but a recent article in the online Oil & Gas Journal has me feeling a little uneasy. And a little depressed.

Earlier this year, Spanish oil firm Repsol SA began exploration off the northern coast of Cuba and is now reportedly set to tap a deep-water oil reservoir less than 80 miles from Key West. It will mark the first oil well in Cuba — with many more likely to follow.

Yet, while Cuba and Repsol are reportedly moving slowly and deliberately, the Journal reports that the U.S. has not taken the necessary steps to ease restrictions that would allow U.S. companies to respond should an accident occur.

This is important, the Journal notes, because a Cuban offshore oil spill would likely inflict more damage to U.S. fisheries and coastlines than the Deepwater Horizon incident because of heavy currents associated with the Gulfstream and Florida Straits, says William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the presidential commission that investigated the Deepwater incident and spill.

To make matters worse, Lee Hunt, a former president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, claims that contractors in Cuba have had to scour worldwide markets to simply find parts. "They haven't had access to the best and most recent versions of the equipment they're using," he told the Journal.

I have no doubt big business interests are in play here, and I suspect the crux of the issue is political, largely revolving around America’s 50-year embargo of Cuba.

No matter your position on that matter — and no matter your opinion of offshore drilling in general — the depressing part is that we American anglers seem to have no control or voice in any of this. The drilling is happening. Period. And our favorite pastime — and, more importantly, our cherished fish stocks and, in many cases, livelihoods— will simply be collateral damage should something terrible happen. It’s a lonely feeling.

How to deal with this? Who knows?

But Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, suggests that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Foreign Asset Control should create a general license for spill response companies to work in Cuba.

"If our response to a spill off Cuba is going to be successful," Muse tells the Journal, "it will need to harness both the U.S. government's and the U.S. private sector's capabilities."

I am not a lawyer, nor a drilling expert or professional politician. I’m merely an average American who works hard, cherishes his freedom and loves to fish. And I’m praying that those making the decisions in these matters do so in the best overall interests of all Americans, as well as the fish that swim in our waters.