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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 outer Continental Shelf 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.

Title 43, Chapter 29 of the U.S. Code divides the OCS into four main regions:

  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Atlantic
  • Pacific
  • Alaska

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 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. 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.

How does OCSLA affect offshore workers?

Section 1333(b) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act 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

What Laws Apply to Workers Injured on the OCS?

Maritime workers who have sustained serious injuries while working on the Outer Continental Shelf are afforded serious protection under OCSLA. This federal law extends certain protections to these workers, such as the ability to obtain medical treatment and financial compensation. However, filing a claim to obtain this compensation is not always easy. In fact, many claims that are completely legitimate are often denied.

For this reason, it is crucial that injured workers seek counsel from a knowledgeable offshore injury lawyer.

OCSLA applies the adjoining state's personal injury law to injuries occurring on an OCSLA situs. Notably, if OCLSA applies, the adjacent state's statute of limitations also applies. If the adjacent state is Louisiana, for example, an OCSLA claim will only have a statute of limitations of one year. While some situations related to "traditional maritime activity" allow the general maritime law's three-year statute of limitations to apply, a thorough investigation by a maritime lawyer into the detailed facts of your case must be made.

What Are My Remedies?

Under OCSLA, workers who are employed on offshore platforms for the purpose of exploring and developing natural resources along the Outer Continental Shelf are given protection under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Workers who are injured while working aboard offshore platforms on the OCS may also be entitled to recover benefits under state workers' compensation programs, depending on the state where they live.

OCSLA provides that the injured worker shall receive benefits identical to those found under the LHWCA, and the payment of all medical expenses associated with the injury. If the worker sustains is injured or killed at the fault of a third party, a claim for damages is also available as an OCSLA "third party action." In a third party case, an injured worker's damages include pain and suffering, lost wages, cost of medical treatment, and more.

Does Your Case Fall Under OCSLA?

For your claim to be considered under OCSLA, you need to qualify under the following two requirements:

  1. You must prove a significant nexus between your injury and operations on the OCS
  2. You must not be a crewmember or master of a vessel, or an officer or employee of the United States

Following an offshore injury, it can be confusing to determine whether state or federal law will apply to your case. For this reason, it is imperative that you seek the advice of an experienced offshore injury attorney. You will need to know the boundaries of the OCS, as well as whether your injury was tied to OCS activities.

In many cases, maritime and Outer Continental Shelf cases can be extremely specific and often quite complicated. For this reason, it is important to choose the right attorney who has experience in these types of cases. Arnold & Itkin offers a high level of experience in cases involving OCSLA and LHWCA cases. We are experienced offshore injury lawyers who are well versed in maritime law, including OCSLA.

When Can Non-Seamen Pursue Injury Compensation under LHWCA?

Under §1333(c) of OCSLA, a non-seaman employee who is injured as a result of operations on the OCS can seek compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Operations that qualify for compensation payable under LHWCA include:

  • Exploration
  • Development
  • Removal
  • Transportation of natural resources

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."

OCS refers to all submerged lands, subsoil, and seabed that belong to the U.S. and are lying seaward and outside of the states' jurisdiction. The OCS is the part of the internationally recognized continental shelf of the United States.

Talk to an Experienced Maritime Lawyer Today

For workers who are injured while working on the Outer Continental Shelf, one of the largest complications is determining whether better benefits can be procured under state or federal law. At Arnold & Itkin, our maritime injury lawyers are proven in trial and proud of taking a detailed team approach. Should you choose to work with us, you can rest assured that we will be able to evaluate your case to determine the best course of action. To get started with your case today, do not hesitate to request your free case evaluation.

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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