MANATEE — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan on Friday called on President Barack Obama to take “swift and strong action” in regard to the proposed Cuban deepwater oil drilling platform only 50 miles from the Florida Keys.
The Sarasota Republican cited news reports saying Cuba is proposing a deepwater drilling platform 22 miles north of Havana, adding, “This plan presents a serious threat to the people of Florida and our environment.”
“As we have learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and impose serious long-term environmental damage to sensitive, unique natural resources,” Buchanan wrote.
The Bradenton Herald reported Wednesday that Cuba appears poised to begin offshore drilling for oil and gas as soon as next year.
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The Herald’s information came from some of the delegates attending a tri-national conference on marine issues at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
Among them was Wayne Smith, who served in the foreign service in Cuba during the Carter and Reagan administrations, and now works for the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.
“They will begin drilling, I think, within the next year,” said Smith, who is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.
“It’s good for Cuba,” Smith told the Herald during the conference attended by more than 60 delegates from the United States, Mexico and Cuba.
“Let’s hope the Cubans are more careful about their drilling practices than we were.”
However, Buchanan wrote in his letter dated Oct. 1 that such drilling would pose risks both to the island nation and the United States.
He urged Obama to work with the Spanish government to find a solution to the problem, since the Cubans have contracted with a Spanish company to operate the deepwater drilling rig and platform.
“In the event of another accidental oil gusher from this Cuban well, experts predict the oil would likely be carried up Florida’s Atlantic Coast,” Buchanan wrote.
“This would deal a potentially devastating blow to Florida’s tourism industry, which is still reeling from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” Buchanan wrote. “According to some estimates, oil could make landfall in Florida in as little as three days.”
BP’s damaged Deepwater Horizon well leaked more than 400 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before its flow was halted in July. Oil did not reach Manatee or Sarasota counties.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.