The top story in The New York Times yesterday carried a bit of water for the oil and gas lobby.

It’s about how Cuba is thinking about opening up its waters for oil drilling and how that could affect the U.S. if there were a spill. That’s a legit story, although it’s an old one. The Wall Street Journal wrote it three months ago and even then thought it worthy of just A5.

The Journal back then reported that “U.S. companies won’t participate because of a longstanding trade embargo against Cuba.” But Big Oil smells Havana crude. And that’s the twist on the Times’s story.

The paper somewhat credulously channels oil interests in reporting why U.S. drillers are worried about Cuban drilling:

The prospect of an accident is emboldening American drilling companies, backed by some critics of the embargo, to seek permission from the United States government to participate in Cuba’s nascent industry, even if only to protect against an accident.

“This isn’t about ideology. It’s about oil spills,” said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group that is trying to broaden bilateral contacts to promote drilling safety. “Political attitudes have to change in order to protect the gulf.”

Sure!

Fortunately, we do get this acknowledgment:

Any opening could provide a convenient wedge for big American oil companies that have quietly lobbied Congress for years to allow them to bid for oil and natural gas deposits in waters off Cuba. Representatives of Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy attended an energy conference on Cuba in Mexico City in 2006, where they met Cuban oil officials.

Basically its unclear why global oil corporations already going into Cuba won’t have equipment as good as the Americans say they need. The spill angle is a bit of a red herring.

A better angle for this story might have been something like: American oil and gas companies, which currently can’t start any new wells in the Gulf, are trying to scare people into letting them start new wells in the Gulf—for Cuba.

The folly of the whole Cold War-relic embargo itself is another story.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.