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Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

What is the outer Continental Shelf?

In August 1954, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) was created to govern activity related to the outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The act defines the OCS as the following:

"The term 'outer Continental Shelf' means submerged lands lying seaward and outside of the area of lands beneath navigable waters…of which the subsoil and seabed appertain to the United States and are subject to its jurisdiction..."

43 USC § 1301 defines "lands beneath navigable waters" as:

  • Lands within a state's boundary covered by nontidal water, which is navigable under U.S. law;
  • Lands permanently or periodically covered by tidal waters up to the mean high tide and up to three geographical miles distance from the state's coastline; or
  • Filled in, made, or reclaimed lands that were previously beneath navigable waters.

Simply, the outer Continental Shelf is submerged land outside of state coastal waters but still within U.S. jurisdiction.

History of OCSLA

By the middle of the 20th century, with the country transitioning away from a wartime-economy, demand for oil and gas skyrocketed. Offshore exploration took off, and by 1949, there were more than 44 exploratory wells in production in the Gulf of Mexico. Within the next decade, oil production became America's second largest source of revenue. Eventually, in 1953, the U.S. Submerged Lands Act was passed, under which the federal government controlled submerged land three geographical miles away from the coastline; exceptions were made for coasts along the Gulf of Mexico, where state control was extended for nine nautical miles.

One year later, in 1954, the government passed OCSLA, which defined federal jurisdiction over the OCS; the Secretary of the Interior was also granted the ability to lease lands under federal control for mineral development. Later, the Secretary of the Interior designated the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to be the agency responsible for leasing the OCS and supervising activity following the lease. The MMS was later renamed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

How does OCSLA affect offshore workers?

Section 1333(b) of OCSLA addresses issues pertaining to employees disabled or killed while working on the OCS in operations for the exploration, development, removal, or the transportation by pipeline of natural resources. Under this section, these employees can be paid compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). In order to qualify for coverage under this OSCLA extension of LHWCA, the injured or deceased offshore employee cannot be a vessel master or crewmember of any vessel or an officer or employee of the U.S.

LHWCA Maritime Law Wrongful Death

2012 Supreme Court Ruling

In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that OCSLA extends coverage to workers so long as they can establish a substantial nexus between their injury and the OCS extractive operations of his or her employer. The historic ruling dealt with the case of Juan Valladolid, who worked on an offshore drilling platform, but was killed at an onshore oil processing facility. His employer argued that he should have sought relief under state workers' compensation law since the incident occurred on dry land. The court ruled that OCSLA can be applied to anyone who is injured or killed as a result of OCS operations, regardless of location.

According to Justice Thomas:

"We are confident that ALJs and courts will be able to determine whether an injured employee has established a significant causal link between the injury he suffered and his employer's on-OCS extractive operations. Although we expect that employees injured while performing tasks on the OCS will regularly satisfy the test, whether an employee injured while performing an off-OCS task qualifies…is a question that will depend on the individual circumstances of each case."

Were you injured in an accident linked to OCS activity? Are you unsure about whether or not OCSLA applies to you? Get the help you deserve from the maritime law attorneys at Arnold & Itkin!

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