One of the foremost experts in Cuba's oil-drilling capabilities, Jorge Pinon, warned the committee that the United States shouldn't bully Repsol, which is not the only oil company to explore in Cuban waters.
Pinon pointed out that the United States doesn't have the leverage with state-owned entities like Petronas that it does with publicly traded companies with U.S. interests, such as Repsol.
"Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas are in the process of implementing the most advanced and up-to-date drilling regulations and standards," said Pinon, a former Amoco executive and a visiting research fellow with Florida International University's Latin American and Caribbean Center's Cuban Research Institute. "But do they have the resources, capabilities, assets, personnel and experience to enforce them? Can these countries' regulatory agencies appropriately police the operators? These are issues for debate."
Some Republican lawmakers 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. Tuesday, those questions came up again.
"Why not drill there?" asked Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Bromwich told Corker the agency would be going forward with lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico in December, and in the central Gulf in May or June.
And lawmakers from both parties remain concerned about Repsol's involvement in Cuba. In September, 34 lawmakers led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., asked Repsol in a letter 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."
Ros-Lehtinen also has introduced legislation that would deny U.S. visas to non-citizens who've worked in Cuba's oil drilling industry. The bill also would impose sanctions and other penalties on people and entities who invest in the development of Cuba's petroleum resources.
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