The governor of Puerto Rico, Carlos Romero Barcelo, said for the first time yesterday that he believes Puerto Rico should have complete control over any offshore oil, gas or other minerals found within at least 12 miles of its coastline.
The government said at a press conference here that is would be a priority of his three-week-old administration to reach agreement with the United States over which government has the right to grant exploration leases and collect royalties if oil is found.
Two American oil companies, Mobil and Esso Inter-American, have expressed interest in exploring for oil off Puerto Rico.
No exploration has begun but, geologically, the submerged lands off Puerto Rico look promising as a source of oil and other minerals.
Whether Puerto Rico has the right to collect revenue from oil extracted off its coast or whether that oil belongs to the federal government is a particularly crucials issue to the island commonwealth because of its high unemployment and widespread poverty.
Oil could be the island's economic salvation, although there could well be resistance in Congress and at the Interior Department to granting Puerto Rico a 12-mile limit when most states currently own oil and minerals only three miles from their shores.
Romero, leader of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, has now taken a position similar to his predecessor. Rafael Hernandez-Colon, leader of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, in wanting to reserve for Puerto Rico any money to be made from the island's offshore resources.omero also said that President Carter reiterated at a White House reception yesterday that he will support any decision made by the Puerto Ricans with regard to their status vis-a-vis the United States.
The choices are statehood, independence or a continuation of commonwealth status in modified Ford called for Puerto Rico so become the 51st state. Romero said again yesterday that Ford's statement was "very, very good for Puerto Rico" but that he would do nothing to initiate a referendum on the issue before 1981.