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Editorial: Loosen U.S. Offshore Energy Exploration

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An offshore drilling rush is about to begin in the deep waters off the coast of Cuba — a mere 60 to 70 miles from Key West and even closer to the ecologically fragile waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Cuba is opening its coastal waters to exploration for what geologists believe is a treasure trove of oil and natural gas reservoirs. In 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are underneath Cuba’s North Basin.

It’s so alluring that seven international consortiums involving 10 countries have partnered with Cuba. In about five months, Spanish oil giant Repsol is scheduled to begin offshore exploration in the North Basin. The risky operation will involve a semi-submersible rig drilling through 5,600 feet of seawater with strong currents and another 14,000 or so feet of layered rock at high pressure.

With BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster still fresh in Gulf communities’ memories, federal, state and local agencies are rushing to revise response plans using lessons learned from that blowout. The fact that the North Basin area is much closer to the Keys than the BP spill has conservationists and officials worried about a similar disaster much closer to home.

If a spill were to occur in Cuban waters, strained political relations between the two countries would keep some U.S. containment equipment, technology, chemical dispersants and personnel expertise from responding to a spill site or relief wells from being drilled by U.S. companies or with U.S. resources.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues a ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf and along the Eastern Seaboard. So while U.S. companies can’t explore for fossil fuels in those areas, various foreign countries are lining up to tap nearby potential reserves, and the U.S. has no oversight over safety and environmental impacts those ventures may pose.

The administration might as well face reality and consider allowing U.S. companies more latitude to explore and develop our own energy resources. It’s a better alternative.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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