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Maritime Acts Pages – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)

Enacted on August 7, 1953, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) provides the Secretary of the Interior with jurisdiction over mineral, oil, and gas exploration and development of submerged lands in state coastal waters. Under the law, the Secretary has the power to regulate and grant leases to the highest qualified bidders deemed responsible enough to carry out offshore activities. The Act applies to all seabed and subsoil of the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS). It is overseen by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The U.S. Submerged Lands Act, also passed in 1953, established government ownership of submerged land within three miles of a state’s coast. It was followed by legislation to protect the environment and the air, and the Coastal Zone Management Act, a law that allows states to review federal actions affecting coastal land and water activities, and regulates the release of pollutants. These acts and the OCSLA were created to address the drilling of oil along the coast, where the ocean provided the best producing area for wells. This was discovered in the late 1800s in California and became an important issue into the mid-1900s when offshore exploration became prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico.

Amendment and Expansion of the Act

The OCSLA was amended with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which assigned the Department of the Interior jurisdiction over renewable energy and other alternate energy-related projects on the OCS. The OCSLA has also been amended to establish an oil spill liability fund. Coastal states also receive a portion of receipts from when mineral resources on the continental shelf are leased.

Another related piece of legislation is the Federal Oil & Gas Royalty Management Act, passed by Congress in 1982. It requires federal lands and the environment to be protected when oil and gas facilities are built. This also created the BOEM, an agency that was formed from the Reorganization of Minerals Management Service (MMS), which was designated to manage mineral leasing on the OCS. It was also tasked with overseeing offshore activities after the issuance of leases. The MMS was renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in 2010, with a clearer focus on environmental and economic responsibility. In addition, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was created to enforce regulations pertaining to safety and environmental issues.

Scope of the OCSLA

The oil/gas exploration program under the Act accounts for 16 percent of U.S. oil production. It also is responsible for five percent of natural gas produced domestically. Leases or permits for any project can be canceled if it jeopardizes marine life. The law also regulates the timing and location of leasing, accounting for marine productivity and environmental sensitivity of a particular area. In addition to a fund for compensating for oil spill pollution, amendments include a Fisherman’s Contingency Fund, to compensate for damages to fishing gear by oil/gas exploration assets.

Maritime Acts Pages – Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)
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