* Drilling off Cuba would be within 50 miles of Florida
* Cuba claims it has 20 billion barrels of oil to develop (Recasts, updates with comments from Interior Secretary, adds drilling details)
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) - Spain’s Repsol (REP.MC) has reassured the United States it will follow American environmental requirements when it drills offshore Cuba this year and will allow U.S. officials to inspect the drilling rig, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Friday.
Following the BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government is worried Cuba may be unable to ensure the safety of its offshore drilling. The United States does not have full formal relations with Cuba.
Salazar told reporters in a conference call that the government was concerned about oil drilling in Cuba’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles from the Florida border.
The issue was discussed when Salazar met representatives from Repsol this week during his visit to Spain.
“What they said is that they will be complying with United States’ environmental requirements,” Salazar said of Repsol’s commitment.
He said Repsol spelled out the company’s planned drilling offshore Cuba and how they would meet U.S. rules and regulations.
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 billion barrels.
Salazar said there was no discussion with Repsol on what would happen if the company did not follow U.S. offshore drilling rules while doing business in Cuba, such as limiting Repsol’s access to future drilling leases in U.S. waters as punishment for noncompliance.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely,” he said.
Repsol already has drilling leases in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and in Alaskan waters.
Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio