The Exclusive Economic Zone & Drilling

An Exclusive Economic Zone is a region of the ocean just offshore that belongs to the state government onshore. This zone was declared by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 to include the waters 200 miles from the shore. In accordance with the International Law of the Sea, other countries also declared similar types of zones. As a result, each state has the ability to fully utilize and harvest the natural resources of the ocean off of their own coasts for hundreds of miles.

About one third of our nation's oil supply in total comes from offshore oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf States include Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. While Alaska and California provide a great deal of oil to the national supply, the Gulf States are where the lion’s share of our offshore oil drilling is done.

How Oil Is Taken From the Sea

There are three major ways that our oil and gas companies extract this gas. One way is with oil rigs. These rigs are positioned in fairly shallow waters. The legs of these machines are permanently fixed to the ocean floor. The crude oil resulting from this type of production is then transported, usually, by a pipeline to a refinery located onshore. Other types of offshore drilling include semi-submersible and deepwater rigs.

The Gulf States are where the exclusive economic zone laws come into play. Each state has the right to explore potential oil reserves up to 200 miles off the coast, provided that this exploration does not violate federal laws. For example, after the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, President Obama put a hold on all drilling in the Gulf Coast indefinitely.

The Difference Between EEZs & Territorial Waters

In international nautical terms, a government only has full sovereignty over the surface and depths of the ocean 12 miles from the low-water mark of the coast. This is known as territorial water, and while civilians or foreign powers can pass through territorial seas, the state has full jurisdiction over that region of the ocean.

In contrast, the EEZ (extending over 10 times the distance of a state’s territorial waters) refers to the right of that state to utilize the resources of the ocean floor in that region. So if a foreign nation’s ship were to sail 100 miles off the coast of another government’s coast, then they would not be considered “trespassing” in sovereign waters—the state only has rights to utilize natural resources up to 200 miles off the coast, not dictate what occurs on the surface of the waters.

Laws like the ones governing the EEZ has led to legal complexities regarding jurisdiction and offshore workers’ rights. That’s why maritime law is its own area of practice—the laws that might seem simple or straightforward onshore are far more complicated on the open seas. Our attorneys are widely known for our deep understanding of maritime law, and we utilize this information to help our clients affirm their rights and receive the resources and compensation they need.

Call Arnold & Itkin for the Maritime Attorneys You Need

Offshore oil drilling is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. It is often a thankless job, despite our economy, our vehicles, and our daily lives depending on the work of offshore oil rig workers nationwide. Arnold & Itkin is proud to represent America's oil and gas workers when they are injured while performing their job duties—our work honors them by providing financial compensation in return for the sacrifices, mentally and physically, that they make for our nation’s future.

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