Offshore petroleum companies looking to UNCLOS to provide legal title to areas beyond U.S. EEZ
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Offshore petroleum production is a major technological triumph. We now have world record complex development projects located in 5,000-6,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico which were thought unimaginable a generation ago. Even more eye- opening, a number of exploration wells have been drilled in the past three years in over 8,000 feet of water and a world record well has been drilled in over 9,000 feet of water. New technologies are taking oil explorers out more than 200 miles offshore for the first time, thus creating a more pressing need for certainty and stability in delineation of the outer shelf boundary. Before the LOS Convention there were no clear, objective means of determining the outer limit of the shelf, leaving a good deal of uncertainty and creating significant potential for conflict. Under the Convention, the continental shelf extends seaward to the outer edge of the continental margin or to the 200-mile limit of the EEZ, whichever is greater, to a maximum of 350 miles. The U.S. understands that such features as the Chukchi Plateau and its component elevations, situated to the north of Alaska, are not subject to the 350-mile limitation. U.S. companies are interested in setting international precedents by being the first to operate in areas beyond 200 miles and to continue demonstrating environmentally sound drilling development and production technologies.
Offshore operations are capital-intensive, requiring significant financing and insurance. Oil and natural gas companies do not want to undertake these massive expenditures if their lease sites may be subject to territorial dispute. They operate transnationally, and need to know that the title to the petroleum resources will be respected worldwide and not just in the United States.