Oil Drilling Off the South Florida Coast: The Bahamas and Cuba Stake Their Claims

They didn't have much reason to do it before, but the Bahamas and Cuba have defined an international boundary in the waters off the coast of Florida. Now, the reason is clear: Both countries are poised to start drilling for oil from floating rigs.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham cochaired a commission that investigated the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010; now he's raising questions about the safety of this drilling off our shores and talking about preparing an international plan to deal with a potential spill.

One problem, though: That requires having a conversation with Cuba.

Since our country doesn't even allow Cuban cigars, it's a long shot that we'd have productive negotiations on a cooperative safety protocol. So officials are going the route of international consensus, reports William Gibson of the Tribune company's Washington bureau. The International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency, will be hosting talks Friday in the Bahamas.

That archipelago nation has its own plans to move forward with drilling, which could eventually happen as close as 40 miles off the Fort Lauderdale coastline.

"Geologically, it's very exciting," Paul Gucwa, chief operating officer of Bahamas Petroleum, told Gibson. But Graham and other officials and experts are more cautious.

As oil reserves worldwide continue to diminish and methods to extract petroleum become more and more desperate, it seems the consciousness of drilling is creeping closer and closer to car-crazy South Floridians. Exploratory wells already exist in the Everglades, the Gulf Coast is affected by deep-water spills, and now cash-strapped Cuba and the tourist-heavy Bahamas are getting in on the game.

We finish with a useful quotation from Lt. Col. Allen West: "You know, someone's going to do the drilling... Wouldn't it be a shame if down the road we're going to China or Cuba or someone else for our energy resources that we allow to be taken from right under our noses?"

Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff writer.
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