Cuba seeks oil near (FL)Keys (that would benefit China)(FLASHBACK May, 2006)

Few Americans paid much attention last year when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced China would help explore potentially large oil reserves off Cuba's northwest coast - not far from the Florida Keys.
But now - with gas prices climbing above $3 a gallon - the prospect of China drilling near the United States has become a hot political issue as two of the world's largest economies vie for new sources of energy.

Some members of Congress warn that China and other countries could lock up oil supplies at a time when U.S. companies are barred from doing business with Cuba because of a 43-year-old trade embargo.

"We sit here watching China exploit a valuable energy resource within eyesight of the U.S. coast,'' said. Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican.

"I think the American public would be shocked - as this country is trying to reduce dependence on Middle East oil - that countries like China are realizing this energy resource.''

But Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, worried that a Cuban oil spill could hurt the state's environment and $50-billion tourism industry, wants to block drilling in Cuba's northern waters.

"Any oil spill 45 miles from Key West is going to absolutely devastate all those delicate coral reefs, the fragile Florida Keys, and would endanger pristine beaches all the way up to Fort Pierce,'' said Nelson, a Democrat.

Cuba pumps about 80,000 barrels of oil a day in Havana and Matanzas provinces, but it is of poor quality and meets less than half of the country's needs.