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China, Others Drilling for Oil Off Florida

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 27, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Wednesday I told you how China and other countries plan to drill for oil just off the Florida Straits. Check out this map. You see that area near Cuba? China's doing it. France is drilling there. So is Canada. But no American companies are allowed. Why? One senator who is trying to get lawmakers to pay attention to this issue, Sen. Larry Craig, joins us now.

Senator, that is kind of shocking, that there are no Americans out there in the Florida Straits. Why not?

SEN. LARRY CRAIG, R-IDAHO: Well, it's a fascinating anomaly of a 30-year-old foreign policy that said no business with Cuba period, end of statement, John.

And, of course, in the north Cuban basin that's exactly what's going on right now. Cuba is opening this up and allowing exploration and development of oil, 50 miles from the Florida coast.

And, of course, Florida has a prohibition all around its state for no drilling and, yet, here it is going on and no American company is allowed to go there.

GIBSON: Senator, the fastest shortcut around this problem, I would think, would be for the Republican president to call his brother, the Republican governor in Florida, and say, "Hey, we need to drill off Florida?"

CRAIG: Well, it isn't just that. That certainly would help if we could get the governor of Florida and Floridians to agree with it, but we would have to change our policy with Cuba. We have an agreement with other countries in the world and, of course, much of the oil that's developed around the world is developed by many of our companies.

But here we have a prohibition with doing any business with Cuba. I'm crafting legislation now that says we could go outside of our economic zones, if you will, and do business in this particular instance that would allow our companies to do the exploration.

We're the experts. We are the ones who know how to do it in an environmentally sound way. China is no expert and it could create an environmental problem there.

GIBSON: So you are saying that American companies should be allowed to deal with Cuba for oil but nothing else?

CRAIG: That's what I'm saying in this instance. I don't think the United States Senate is willing to buy off on a total relaxation of relations with Cuba. But clearly, here we are cutting off our nose to spite our face. If we drilled in the hemisphere, this hemisphere, the known deposits of oil, we could be producing now over two million barrels a day into our markets.

Instead, we are drilling in high-risk countries. We are dealing in areas that are politically very volatile and, of course, that's what's helped run up the price of gas or oil in the world market.

GIBSON: But isn't the shortcut here to drill off U.S. waters off a U.S. state, Florida, and for the Republican administration in Florida to help out the Republican administration in the White House by relaxing these state rules that prohibit drilling off Florida?

CRAIG: Well, you have got it. That would certainly help. I think the great fear I have is that if the Chinese drill right up against the line, they could slant drill into the Florida pool that we know is out there and drain out what is technically oil, crude oil of the United States.

Let's also share a higher royalty. Let's allow these states that are coastal states that have reserve offshore to share a larger part of the royalty that now flows to the federal government.

GIBSON: Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

CRAIG: Thank you.

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