August 2009 Archives

Posted - Saturday, August 01, 2009 11:00 AM EDT

While the debate about drilling off the coast of Florida continues in Washington and the state Legislature, several international companies are getting started on projects that could bring oil rigs within 60 miles of the Keys by year's end.

Companies from nations like Norway, Spain, India, China, Russia and Brazil have signed exploration agreements with Cuba and the Bahamas that could mean drilling south of Key West this year, and 120 miles east of the Keys in the Cay Sal area of the Bahamas in fewer than two years.

This week, Cuba's communist newspaper Granma reported that the country's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or CUPET, inked a deal Tuesday with Russian company Zarubzhnieft to begin exploring for oil in four of the 59 blocks the island nation divvied up off its coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jorge Pinon, an energy fellow with the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, said the Russian-leased blocks are too small and will be too far west into the Gulf of Mexico to be much of a concern to South Florida.

But the projects from other countries' energy companies, particularly from Spain's Repsol-YPF and Norway's StatoilHydro, may add a new twist to the ongoing debate about domestic oil and natural gas exploration.

These companies are major players in the exploration industry, and they wouldn't be eyeing this area of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean if they weren't confident their efforts would bear fruit, Pinon said.

"The argument about continuing the moratorium [of drilling off of much of Florida's coast] takes a different turn if everyone else is drilling all around us," Pinon said.

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