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Report: No Chinese Offshore Drilling Near Cuba

The GOP is in the midst of a coordinated effort to slam Democrats for a seemingly outrageous contradiction: While Democrats—with the help of Florida Republicans—block oil drilling off the Florida shore, China is doing just that a mere 60 miles off the coast of Cuba. Vice President Dick Cheney, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have all raised the specter of Chinese drilling off Cuba’s coast.

In a recent speech, Cheney quoted a column by George Will, who wrote last week that "drilling is under way 60 miles off Florida. The drilling is being done by China, in cooperation with Cuba, which is drilling closer to South Florida than U.S. companies are."

The truth of that claim, however, is seriously in doubt.

Democrats today pointed to a February 29, 2008 Congressional Research Service that found “[w]hile 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 through its state-run China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec).”

Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, took to the Senate floor Wednesday and called the alleged Cuba drilling “akin to urban legend.”

Shown the quote from the CRS report, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail that the “fact is China can drill off the cost of the United States and Americans can’t. At a time when the nationwide average price for a gallon of gas is over $4, that policy just doesn’t make sense.”

The GOP campaign doesn’t argue, however, that China “can” drill off the coast of Cuba—but rather that they are already doing it. Boehner released a statement yesterday headlined: “WHILE CHINA EXPLORES OIL AND GAS 60 MILES FROM AMERICAN SHORES, DEM MAJORITY KEEPS AMERICA’S ENERGY RESOURCES UNDER LOCK-AND-KEY.”

Steel cited to a 2006 New York Times story that mentions lease agreements negotiated between Cuba and China to support the claim, the same story cited by other Republicans pressing the issue.

The Times reported that “[w]ith only modest energy needs and no ability of its own to drill, Cuba has negotiated lease agreements with China and other energy-hungry countries to extract resources for themselves and for Cuba.”

McClatchy Newspapers and the Miami Herald have called the claim into question, as well, citing energy experts, though not the CRS report.
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