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U.S. mulls policy on Cuban oil drilling

Oct. 18, 2011 at 12:47 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. firms will be allowed to respond to any oil spills from drilling set to begin off Cuba's northern coast later this year, the Obama administration says.

The federal government is "taking measures to ensure that the appropriate private industry parties are able to respond quickly in the event of an oil spill in Cuban waters," Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told the Senate Tuesday.

The decision would mean relaxing the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which generally bars American commerce with the nation.

Under the embargo, individual companies can ask the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for licenses to travel to or do business with Cuba.

At least two U.S. companies specializing in spill response already hold such permits, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Environmentalists and oil industry leaders have been pressuring the administration to issue more general licenses for a broad class of oil service companies to do business with Cuba in case of an emergency.

If licensing decisions are made only after a spill occurs, "on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis ... you may see a delay in our ability to respond quickly and address the cleanup," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.

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