Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Senator Nelson's better idea

In 2008, Florida Senator Bill Nelson introduced a bill “to protect Florida’s coast from the ravages of oil drilling” by abandoning the U.S.-Cuba agreement on our maritime border and by threatening sanctions against the executives (and their families) of foreign companies that explore for Cuban offshore oil.

Now that the one company that is proceeding with drilling plans, Repsol, has built a rig and is getting closer to drilling, Nelson has introduced a different bill.

I criticized the first one, and I’ll praise this one.

Senator Nelson’s new bill seems to be driven by two realities: the drilling will proceed whether we like it or not, and if there is an emergency, an immediate and effective response depends on advance planning and agreements.

Specifically, the bill says that a) no lease for exploration in U.S. territory can be awarded to a company that drills in Cuban waters and fails to have a good emergency response plan with resources to carry it out, and b) the Administration is charged with talking to Mexico, Cuba, and the Bahamas to devise Gulf oil spill protection plans, which should include specific logistical arrangements for each party to the agreement.

We have such an agreement with Mexico, and each side has obligations in the case of a spill. When the BP spill occurred in U.S. waters, Mexico responded immediately, offering to deliver the assistance stipulated in our bilateral agreement.

Including Cuba in such an arrangement involves talks with the Castro Regime, which some in Florida will oppose. But if there’s a spill, the lack of an agreement means that emergency response would be a come-as-you-are party, with U.S. agencies and companies improvising. Good ideas would be bogging down in our bureaucracy and Cuba’s while more and more oil would be fouling Florida shores and fisheries day by day.

Senator Nelson’s bill amounts to a prod to the Administration, whose Interior Department simultaneously seeks to create a “gold standard” for Gulf environmental protection, is concerned about Cuba drilling, is talking to Repsol, and finds the idea of talking to Cuba “tricky.”

A spokesman for the State Department, which has the job of talking to foreign governments, told the Herald there have been no talks with Cuba, then he huffed and puffed:

“However, we expect any company operating in Cuba’s oil and gas sector to adhere to industry environmental, health, and safety standards and have adequate prevention, mitigation, and remediation systems in place in the event of an incident. We will pursue activities within our legal authority in order to minimize risk to U.S. territory.”

Those words are all well and good, but U.S. waters and shores will be better protected by the ideas in Senator Nelson’s bill.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Senator Bill Nelson’s proposed legislation would only influence/impact Repsol...the only company drilling in Cuba with US oil interests...the other three companies which would be drilling the additional 4-5 exploratory wells...Petronas, ONGC and PDVSA... do not have any E&P interests in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. So they could care less about Senator Nelson's bill retaliatory actions.

In fact the legislation also threatens the only company within the group with extensive deepwater expertise...Repsol recently successfully drilled the record setting 30,000 feet depth Buckskin project in the US Gulf of Mexico.

"... no lease for exploration in U.S. territory can be awarded to a company that drills in Cuban waters and fails to have a good emergency response plan with resources to carry it out..."

Those resources would not be available in case of a catastrophic accident and oil spill because US embargo regulations would prevent equipment, technology, and personnel available in Houston-New Orleans just six hours away from the Jaguey Project to respond immediately to an emergency.

The proposed legislation lacks the granting of a "general license" for United States petroleum supply and equipment companies to provide resources only in the case of an emergency which would threaten the marine environment of our common waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Strait.

It took 13.5 million feet of booms, 6,500 vessels, 48,000 responders, 125 planes and 6 rigs to bring BP's Macundo well under control...from where are those resources going to come from in the event of an accident in the Jaguey prospect?...much less, do we have the joint plans on how to execute and coordinate the use of those resources with the Cubans?

I agree that Senator Bill Nelson’s legislation is well intended but it lacks language providing access to the resources needed in case of an accident.