A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Drilling Off the Coast of Cuba

Q: Are the Chinese drilling off the coast of Cuba?

A: No. George Will and Vice President Cheney got that wrong. But Cuba has allowed for exploration by at least six other non-Chinese firms in the region and onshore testing and exploration by China’s Sinopec.


Are Chinese or any other nation’s oil companies drilling on Cuban oil leases 60 miles off Florida’s shores as mentioned in recent articles?


While it’s true that as many as 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may lie off Cuba’s coast, no country, including China, is drilling for a drop of it. But on June 11, in a speech to the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vice President Dick Cheney claimed, citing columnist George Will, that the Chinese were drilling 60 miles off the coast of Florida: 

Cheney: As for other locations, George Will pointed out in his column the other day that oil is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. But we’re not doing it, the Chinese are, in cooperation with the Cuban government. Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply.

Cheney was right about one thing: George Will wrote in his June 5 column that "[d]rilling is underway 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." But the substance of Cheney’s and Will’s claim is false, according to independent experts, diplomats in the region and elected officials whose states could potentially have been affected by such a deal.

Cuba has leased exploration blocks to foreign companies for areas as close as 60 miles off Florida’s southern coast. A 2006 New York Times article said China was one of the countries that had negotiated an offshore lease. But experts quoted recently by The Associated Press say none of the companies involved are Chinese and all are only allowed to explore for now, not drill in the region. Another exploration deal was announced between Brazil’s state oil company, Petrobras, and Cuba. The deal would allow Petrobras to explore in Cuba’s offshore territories in the Gulf of Mexico, with a potential drilling start-date in two years.

Given all of this, the day after Cheney’s speech, the vice president’s office released a statement saying Cheney was wrong, according to The Associated Press:

Associated Press Online: Cheney’s office said in a statement to The Associated Press that the vice president had erred. "It is our understanding that, although Cuba has leased out exploration blocks 60 miles off the coast of southern Florida, which is closer than American firms are allowed to operate in that area, no Chinese firm is drilling there."

And at the end of George Will’s June 17 column, he issued a correction:

Will: In a previous column, I stated that China, in partnership with Cuba, is drilling for oil 60 miles from the Florida coast. While Cuba has partnered with Chinese companies to drill in the Florida Straits, no Chinese company has been involved in Cuba’s oil exploration that close to the United States.

But the false claim has been repeated by those in favor of lifting a federal moratorium on drilling in offshore areas and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A variation on the theme was delivered by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on June 22 on NBC’s "Meet the Press":

Graham: Cuba is doing a deal with China, potentially, to drill off our shores.

On June 11, the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that China has entered into a deal with Cuba for potential onshore drilling west of Havana. McClatchy also reported that Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez said a deal between China and Cuba for offshore drilling is "akin to urban legend."

-Emi Kolawole


Bolstad, Erika and Kevin G. Hall. GOP claim about Chinese oil drilling off Cuba is untrue. McClatchy Washington Bureau, 11 June 2008.

Heebert, H. Josef. Cheney’s false comment on oil drilling attacked. Associated Press Online, 12 June 2008, 24 June 2008.

Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the North Cuba Basin, Cuba, 2004
. U.S. Geological Survey, Feb. 2005.

Gentile, Carmen. Analysis: Brazil, Cuba sign oil pact. 16 Jan. 2008. United Press International, 16 Jan. 2008, 24 June 2008.