* U.S worried over Cuban drilling 60 miles from Florida
* Cuba believes it has 20 billion barrels of offshore oil
* Cuban safety questioned after BP spill
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, April 14 A top U.S. official said
on Thursday they were concerned about Cuba opening its offshore
waters to oil drilling, while Mexico, which has a boundary
dispute with the island nation, said the three countries should
try to work out differences.
"For us it is an issue of concern," said U.S. Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar about drilling in Cuban waters.
"Obviously, because it's located 60 miles off the coast of
Florida ... it's an issue that we're monitoring carefully."
In light of the BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) oil spill nearly a year
ago, the U.S. is now worried that Cuba is unable to ensure its
offshore drilling will be safe. Lax U.S. government oversight
was faulted in the BP disaster.
Salazar spoke to reporters during a break at a day-long
international conference sponsored by the U.S. Interior
Department on best safety practices for drilling in deep
Cuba was not among the dozen or so countries invited to the
Cuba is eager to develop its oil resources in the Gulf of
Mexico, which it estimates could total 20 billion barrels of
crude. The United States pegs the total at a more modest 5
Mario Budebo, an undersecretary at Mexico's Ministry of
Energy, said his country had an offshore boundary dispute with
Cuba and was less concerned about drilling safely in Cuban
He said the three countries should "get together and have
discussions" about Cuba's offshore drilling activities.
"That is still something that we have to deal with and put
Cuba together (at) the table," said Budebo.
Salazar did not respond to Budebo's suggestion. When asked
later if Salazar supported the idea, an Interior spokesperson
referred the question to the U.S. State Department. The U.S.
does not have full formal relations with Cuba.
But other Interior officials recently met with executives
from Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF (REP.MC) about the company's
plans to drill in Cuban waters.
Repsol, in a consortium with Norway's Statoil (STL.OL) and
a unit of India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp, plans to start
drilling offshore Cuba by the end of the summer.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett in Washington; additional reporting
by Jeff Franks in Havana; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)