WASHINGTON — Thirty-four U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Spanish oil company Repsol to keep out of Cuban waters, saying the firm's pending offshore drilling plans would support the Castro regime and "bankroll the apparatus that violently crushes dissent."
"The decaying Cuban regime is desperately reaching out for an economic lifeline, and it appears to have found a willing partner in Repsol to come to its rescue," said the author of a letter to the company, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The company says it could begin exploratory drilling as soon as December, a prospect that has the Florida and federal governments scrambling to develop contingency plans for a spill even as many Floridians have fresh memories of last year's BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We are working on spill response and we're working with the federal, state and local agencies — very closely," said U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo.
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The possibility of exploratory drilling also has federal agencies grappling with the international and political implications on the U.S. embargo with Cuba.
Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned Repsol in the letter that any drilling operations it conducts in Cuban waters could provide direct financial benefit to the Castro dictatorship. The company's partnership with the Cuban regime also could violate U.S. law and may run afoul of pending legislation in Congress, she said.
Recently, representatives from several industry and environmental groups traveled to Cuba to check in on the country's offshore plans. They included Lee Hunt, the chief executive of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, and William Reilly, a former EPA administrator and co-chairman of the White House task force that investigated last year's BP oil spill.
The group also included Richard Sears, the former vice president of deepwater drilling for Shell, and Dan Whittle, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix said the company had no comment on the letter from Congress.
The company, which has U.S. operations that include leases in the Arctic waters off the northern Alaska coastline, is in the process of bringing a drilling rig to Cuba.
Repsol in January 2010 signed a lease contract with the Italian energy company Saipem for drilling equipment. Repsol on its website describes the equipment as complying "with all the technical requirements and all the limitations established by the U.S. administration for drilling operations in Cuba."
The Republican-led House Natural Resources Committee had scheduled a hearing on drilling in Cuban waters for last week, but it was postponed after Obama administration officials said they weren't yet prepared to outline their overall response to offshore drilling in Cuba.
Some Republican members of the committee have complained in the past about Cuba's ability to drill so close to the U.S. coastline even as a 125-mile buffer zone remains in place in U.S. waters off of most of Florida's coast.
The congressional letter drew bipartisan support, with Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera, Tom Rooney, Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross and Sandy Adams signing onto it; they were joined by Democrats Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Also signing the letter were: Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., Rep. Steve Austria, R-Ohio, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., Del. Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Jason Altmire, D-Pa., and Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif.
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