Tweak Cuban embargo for sake of safe drilling, Sen. Bob Graham says

Sen. Bob Graham.
Sen. Bob Graham.

Concerned about the impact of a spill if Cuba drills for oil offshore, environmentalists and former Florida Sen. Bob Graham are pushing to change the U.S. trade embargo to allow Cuba to buy state-of-the-art safety equipment from U.S. sources.

“We’re not doing the Cubans a favor,” said Graham, who led an American delegation to Havana in January to meet with Cuban officials. “We are protecting ourselves by decreasing the chances of an event which would be extremely damaging to the United States and, in particular, South Florida.”

Graham was co-chairman of the 2010 national commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

The tide in the Straits of Florida between Cuba and the Keys, where the Cubans would drill, runs west to east, then turns north along Florida’s coastline.

In the event of a spill, “the entire east coast of Florida would be at risk. The Gulf Stream could potentially carry oil from a major spill up the coast as far as North Carolina before it veers off into the Atlantic,” said Dan Whittle, Cuban program director for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“What we’re shooting for is basically a world without the embargo with respect to offshore oil exploration,” Whittle said.

Earlier this month, Graham met with a White House official to discuss the matter. “He seemed receptive to the argument that the U.S. is the most at-risk party,” said Graham, who did not name the official.

The Council on Foreign Relations, the New York-based think tank that sponsored Graham’s Havana trip, will hold a private, invitation-only event to alert certain South Florida business interests about the pollution threat a large spill would pose.

“The council is seeking to organize a workshop primarily focused on the tourism industry, which would be the most immediately effected if there was a major spill,” Graham said.

Anti-spill efforts by nongovernmental organizations like the council have been accompanied by recent governmental action.

In March, after several years of talks, officials in the United States and Cuba joined with other nations in a little-noticed agreement to adopt nonbinding procedures that seek to streamline international cooperation efforts in the event of an oil spill. Also participating are Mexico, the Bahamas and Jamaica.

The intent of the so-called Wider Caribbean Region Multilateral Technical Procedures (MTOP) “is to build a responder-to-responder network so that in the event of a large oil spill, participating countries can work effectively together to minimize environmental impacts,” according to the 60-page document.

Cuba’s renewed interest in finding oil in its sovereign waters about 50 miles south of the Florida Keys, in waters a mile deep, is motivated by its desire to have greater control over its energy supply. Today, Cuba’s primary source of oil is an unstable Venezuela.

Twice before, while working with a Spanish oil firm, Cuba drilled dry wells. According to Graham, however, the Cuban officials he met with believe that recent seismic data was sufficiently compelling to justify further exploration in the deep water of the Florida Straits.

The Cubans told Graham their future partners in any search for oil would likely be from Brazil or Angola.

“The concern that a number of us have is that other than those failed efforts by the Spanish, Cuba has had no experience with deep-water drilling and we learned with BP how fragile that process can be,” said Graham. “Cuba also has limited access to the kind of technology which would mitigate against an accident during the drilling process and has no capability to respond were there to be one.”

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers, injured 16, and spilled oil that ultimately spread across more than 1,000 miles of shoreline in Louisiana, Mississippi Alabama and Florida, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. BP has spent more than $25 billion in cleanup and settlement costs.

Graham and Whittle agreed that a similar spill in the Florida Straits could be worse.

“There are more entities that would be affected. It would also have a deleterious effect on the coral reefs and the mangroves and the fish,” Graham said.

“Marine life in the Gulf Stream would be damaged,” said Whittle. “Ecosystem damage would also happen along the northwest and north central coast of Cuba. Seagrass, mangroves and coral systems could be devastated.”

They say a modification of the U.S. trade embargo is necessary to allow Cuba access to advanced U.S. technology, like blowout preventors and rigs, needed to lessen the likelihood of a spill.

Under the embargo, items that have more than 10 percent U.S. content cannot be sold to Cuba.

The embargo should also be changed to allow Cuba to participate in the 24-hour response capability established by oil companies in the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon spill, Graham said.

The embargo has been changed before to protect U.S. interests regarding sea search and rescue, weather information sharing and drug trafficking.

Broward Bulldog is a not-for-profit online only newspaper created to provide local reporting in the public interest. 954-603-1351

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.


    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.


    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.


    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category