Muckraker: Grist on Politics

During his “drill, drill, drill” rant yesterday, Dick Cheney complained that Cuba and China are drilling for oil closer to the coast of Florida than American companies are currently allowed. It’s become a common talking point for Republicans arguing that more areas should be opened to drilling — but, reports McClatchy, it appears to be bogus.

[N]o one can prove that the Chinese are drilling anywhere off Cuba’s shoreline. The China-Cuba connection is “akin to urban legend,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida who opposes drilling off the coast of his state but who backs exploration in ANWR.

“China is not drilling in Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters, period,” said Jorge Pinon, an energy fellow with the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami and an expert in oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Martinez cited Pinon’s research when he took to the Senate floor Wednesday to set the record straight.

A Congressional Research Service report on Cuba [PDF] came to the same conclusion last year: “While there has been some concern about China’s potential involvement in offshore deepwater oil projects, to date its involvement in Cuba’s oil sector has been focused on onshore oil extraction in Pinar del Rio province [in Cuba] through its state-run China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, put out a statement pointing to the CRS report today. “By perpetuating this myth, the Republicans and their friends in Big Oil are acting as the modern-day masters of deception,” said Markey. “It’s not the Chinese who are looking to drill off Florida’s beaches, it’s the Republicans and Big Oil.” [UPDATE: Cheney’s office admitted he was wrong.]

Markey, Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) also unveiled legislation today that would push oil companies to explore on the 68 million acres of public land, onshore and off, that are already leased for drilling. “It’s time for Republicans and oil company executives to stop making the false claim that the U.S. is not making enough land available for energy production,” Hinchey said. It’s estimated that 80 percent of the available domestic oil supply is contained in those 68 million acres — an area the size of Georgia and Illinois combined.

“Big Oil could drill in millions of acres today, without Congress even lifting a finger,” said Markey. “This is yet another drilling decoy proffered by the Republicans and their friends in the oil and gas industry.”