Offshore Drilling and the Law of the Sea

by RyanD on February 15, 2013

Up until the 20th century, industrialization had mainly been landlocked and had not spread to the seas and oceans. Most water travel was for coast to coast transport and national defense. Little progress had been made into mining the depths of the water for resources.

Metals, minerals and food are the main products of the ocean. Deep ocean oil became accessible in the early 2000s. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations formed a global set of laws concerning the seas and the exploitation of their resources.

History of Oceanic Law

During World War II the ocean became populated with many steel ships that ran on oil. The massive increase in sea travel technology at this time spurred exploration into the ocean’s depths. After the war, the United Nations came together and wrote the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Law of the Sea covers everything from oil production to fishing. Many conflicts of the sea had been between small countries with major coastal fishing industries. Great Britain and Iceland are two examples.

Malta, the island nation located in the center of the Mediterranean, had a great deal of stock in the water’s resources, and they led the push for the creation of the Law of the Sea. Many small countries needed the protection of law to keep them competitive in a global economy that focused on the sea.

The Law of the Sea

The Law of the Sea acts as a set of guidelines for nations to follow when staking claim to water-bound resources like fish and oil. The United States has claimed a considerable amount of deep sea oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The first section of the laws control how states may declare territory in the ocean. States may claim waters up to 24 nautical miles away from their coast. Ships from other states may sail safely through these claimed waters, but are subject to the laws of the local country. The local coast guard often patrols territorial, coastal waters.

Territorial claims are not the same as economic claims to ocean water. A concept known as the exclusive economic zone was drafted to decide how many underwater resources a country could claim. The decision was to allow a state to claim as much as 38 million square nautical miles as far as 200 miles away from their national coasts. This is a lot of water that is filled with precious minerals, fuels and chemicals.

The United States, with the help of joint ventures with companies such as Shell, greatly expanded the mining of oil from the Gulf of Mexico in 2006. The technology to access this oil had not become available until then. The legal ability to do this was granted by the generous laws based on the exclusive economic zone idea. However, other countries such as Cuba also compete for the same resources. Since they are small, they are more likely to choose non-competitive waters near their own coastal boundaries.


Environmental Laws

A deep sea oil drill broke down in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in a massive oil spill in the region. Huge damage to states such as Louisiana prompted similar coastal states to write environmental laws concerning such drilling operations.

Many of these states simply ban the drilling for oil along coastal regions. Deep sea drilling is less controlled, but coastal states reserve the right to sue for damages when oil rigs damage the ecosystem.

Companies must respect regional laws and the Law of the Sea when drilling for oil. The United Nations and individual governments continually update their agreements on ocean mining.



This article was written together with William Kelton, a freelance writer who is interested in environmental law. They write this on behalf of Gulf Land Structures and their offshore rig living quarters. After making sure your drilling complies with all laws, make sure to check them out so you can provide your employees with great living arrangements.




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