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How Castro, Cuban embargo could pollute Florida's beaches, water

WASHINGTON -- As exploratory oil drilling is set to begin in December off the coast of Cuba, the U.S. government acknowledged Tuesday that because of chilly diplomatic relations, it could have a limited ability to control the response to an oil spill there, let alone one the magnitude of last year's Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. regulators said their main leverage to encourage safe drilling practices in Cuba is with the company doing the first round of offshore exploration in the communist country: Spain's Repsol oil company. Because of its other extensive U.S. interests, Repsol is likely to exercise caution in a prospect less than 100 miles from the Florida coastline, said Michael Bromwich, director of the agency that oversees offshore drilling here, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Repsol's wide U.S. interests have likely "played a significant role in why they’ve been as cooperative as they have," Bromwich told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday morning.

Bromwich also said the company has pledged publically that it will adhere to U.S. regulations and the highest industry standards while working in Cuban waters. The company has given U.S. regulators permission to inspect the rig it will be using, Bromwich said, although that inspection will have to be done before it enters Cuban waters. The agency, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, has already participated in a mock response drill at Repsol's facilities in Trinidad.

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