Perhaps you’ve heard about the Russian submarines patrolling international waters off the U.S. East Coast (if you haven’t, take a look at a Reuters story about it) in what feels like an echo of the old Cold War. The Pentagon’s not worried about this particular venture, but there are concerns from the U.S. energy industry about another Russian foray — this one in concert with Cuba. In rhetoric that may ring a bell with anyone who saw the 1964 satirical nuclear-fear movie “Dr. Strangelove,”
the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research is sounding the alarm about a Russian-Cuban deal to drill for offshore oil near Florida.

“Russia, Communist Cuba Advance Offshore Energy Production Miles Off Florida’s Coast,” is the title on the institute’s news release. Below that is the prescription for action: “Efforts Should Send Strong Message to Interior Dept. to Open OCS in Five-Year Plan.” OCS stands for outer continental shelf, an area that was closed to oil drilling until the Bush administration opened it last year in a largely symbolic move aimed at driving down the sky-high gasoline prices of the Summer of 2008.

Environmentalists hate the idea. So does Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has made opposition to offshore drilling one of his signature issues. But as it turns out, it’s unlikely that anybody — from Russia, Cuba, the United States or anywhere else — is going to get petroleum out of the OCS in the immediate future.

For a start, it takes time to set up a deep-water offshore drilling rig. And any Cuban effort would be further hampered by the need to use equipment with less than 10 percent American technology, to comply with the long standing U.S. embargo against Cuba. As my Reuters colleague Russell Blinch reported in June, there may be scope for possible U.S.-Cuban cooperation here but no Cuban drilling platform is likely to be in the area this year.

Reports of a Russian-Cuban deal to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico prompted a quick response from the Institute for Energy Research, self-described as a free-market energy think-tank.