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Senator Favors Waiver for U.S. Producers to Explore Cuban Waters

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) last Thursday introduced legislation that would give U.S. producers an exemption to explore for oil and natural gas in the Cuban waters of the Florida Straits.

The measure would exempt domestic producers from a December 1977 international agreement between the U.S. and Cuba, which established a 313-mile long boundary separating the U.S.-controlled side of the Florida Straits from Cuba's side. The Bush administration in March renewed the 1977 agreement for two years.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), an opponent of drilling offshore Florida, wants the White House to renegotiate the nearly 30-year-old boundary agreement, which originally focused on fishing rights, to take offshore oil and gas drilling off the table, a spokesman said.

Current U.S. policy bars U.S. producers from developing oil and natural gas fields that lie in Cuban waters and are within 50 miles of Florida, according to Craig. As the U.S. maintains its ban on drilling offshore Florida and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Cuba has partnered with China and other energy-starved countries to develop the fields that are "within spitting distance of our shores without competition from U.S. industries," he said.

Craig took to the Senate floor in late April to complain about U.S. policy, saying producers "[are] hobbled by self-defeating laws and regulations that allow our economic adversaries and competitors to beat us to the punch right on our doorstep" in the Florida Keys.

"We have hamstrung the U.S. energy sector from seeking additional resources in the region, while at the same time allowing the likes of China, Canada, Brazil, France and others to freely seek energy opportunities 50 miles off our coast without competition from state-of-the-art technologies and expertise of our own U.S. gas and oil industries," he said.

"Not one single U.S. company is exploring in these potentially beneficial waters that extend to within 50 miles off the coast of Florida. So, we sit here watching China exploit a valuable resources within eyesight of the U.S. coast," Craig noted. "We will miss a boat that won't sail twice if we don't allow U.S. companies to at least explore the possibilities of new supplies in neighboring countries."

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that undiscovered resources on Cuba's side may be as much as 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 Tcf of natural gas. The Interior Department agency has been precluded from reviewing the resource potential of the U.S. side of the Florida Keys.

Craig's legislation will face an uncertain future, given that a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are opposed to any economic relationship with Cuba as long as Fidel Castro is president, The New York Times reported.

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