Administration urged to work with Cuba on oil disaster, protecting Gulf

OilSpill

Anya Landau French, director of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, called on the Obama administration to make BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster the spur to work with Cuba to prevent similar catastrophes in the years ahead.

Writing in the The Havana Note, a website devoted to improving U.S.-Cuba relations, French points out that Cuba has signed a contract with a Spanish oil company to drill in the Gulf of Mexico with an Italian rig built in China as early as this fall.

The U.S. should lift the Cold War trade embargo on Cuba and allow U.S. companies, technology and personnel into Cuba to help "mitigate any risks oil exploration in Cuban waters could have on the United States," French writes.

She adds, "The Deepwater Horizon disaster underscores the need to be talking to Cuba about protecting our shared environment."

As BP's mile-deep oil well, 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, continues to gush 25,000 barrels daily into the Gulf, that "shared environment" is becoming an overriding issue. Nature lovers are now rushing to help protect or clean up pristine beaches and wildlife refuges along the U.S. Gulf Coast. But what about Cuba's Veradero, Mexico's Cancun, Jamaica's Montego Bay, among the most glorious beaches in the world? What if the oil drifts east into the Gulf Stream? It could end up fouling beaches in Europe and killing fish, shrimp and oysters that feed tens of millions.

Already, the United Nations and 13 countries have offered assistance in stopping the gusher and helping in the cleanup. State Department spokesman P.J. Rowley said the U.S. Coast Guard will decide what, if any, aid to accept in coming days.

After BP's 97-ton containment dome failed, Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration, told The New York Times, "There are not much additional available resources in the world to fight this thing offshore. We've basically thrown everything we have at it." What is this if not an admission of defeat?

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, accused BP of  "one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in America," so bad it has amassed $485 million in fines and settlements including more than $87 million for "willful negligence" in the death of 15 workers in the explosion of a BP refinery in Houston, Texas, in March 2005.

Slocum said: "Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis. There is a problem here and the consequence is clear."

Five days after BP's April 22 Deepwater Horizon disaster -- on Earth Day, ironically - the huge oil corporation reported first quarter 2010 profits of $5.6 billion, more than twice the $2.4 billion it reported in the first quarter of last year. It has cost BP only four days of profits to pay for all their response so far to the disaster.

Many are asking if this isn't an argument for nationalizing BP.

Lisa Margonelli, also of the New America Foundation, writes in The New York Times that the likely fallout of this environmental catastrophe will be a moratorium on offshore drilling. "Moratoriums have a moral problem," she continues. "All oil comes from someone's backyard, and when we don't reduce the amount of oil we consume and refuse to drill at home, we end up getting people to drill for us in Kazakhstan, Angola, and Nigera ... Nigeria has suffered spills equivalent to that of the Exxon Valdez every year since 1969. As of last year, Nigeria had 2,000 active spills."

Since the Santa Barbara, Calif., oil spill of 1969, she continues, "Americans have increased by two-thirds the amount of petroleum we consume in our cars while nearly quadrupling the amount of petroleum we import. Effectively, we've been importing oil and exporting spills to villages and waterways all over the world."

Every gallon of gas "is a gallon of risk," she adds. The people of the U.S. and the government "should throw our newfound political will behind a sweeping commitment to use less gas - build cars that use less oil (or none at all) and figure out better ways to transport Americans."

Photo: Oil, scooped up with a bucket from the Gulf of Mexico off the side of the supply vessel Joe Griffin, is seen in the hands of an AP reporter at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, off the coast of Louisiana, May 10. (AP/Gerald Herbert)