Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has offered legislation that would block Cuba from engaging in oil and natural gas production off the Florida coastline. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-FL) said she plans to introduce a similar bill in the House.

The Martinez bill amends the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 to deny U.S. visas to any foreign agent or entity that contributes to the development of Cuba's oil exploration program. It further imposes sanctions on any individuals or entities that invest $1 million or more to develop Cuba's oil and gas resources.

"The bill sends a clear message that any attempt to develop Cuba's oil exploration program will be met with strong sanctions," the senator said.

Martinez's measure came at the same time Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Larry Craig (R-ID) introduced bipartisan legislation to permit U.S. producers to explore for oil and natural gas in Cuban waters located as close as 45 miles from Florida (see Daily GPI, March 14).

The Dorgan-Craig bill contends that domestic producers should be allowed to drill in these waters, where national oil companies have currently been granted access by Cuba to carry out exploration and production activities.

Current U.S. policy bars U.S. producers from developing oil and natural gas fields that lie in Cuban waters. Meanwhile, Cuba has partnered with China and other energy-starved countries, such as Norway, Spain and Venezuela, to develop the fields that are "within spitting distance" of U.S. shores. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the North Cuba Basin may hold as much as 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 Tcf to 21.8 Tcf of natural gas.

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