Caitlyn Antrim testifies before the House Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources

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Caitlyn Antrim testified before the House Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources to discuss US interests in joining the Law of the Sea Convention and the Extended Continental Shelf. Caitlyn is the Executive Director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans.

Her official testimony:

Oral Testimony of Caitlyn Antrim before the Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources
House Committee on Natural Resources
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good Morning Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.

I serve as the executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, a bipartisan committee of 18 American experts and educators in international ocean law.

Over my career I have worked as an ocean engineer, mineral economist, industry analyst, federal official and diplomat, all with a focus on the development of minerals of the ocean floor. I would like to draw from that experience to discuss opportunities to expand our offshore energy resource base for development by American industry. 

As US industry moves further seaward in search of exploitable energy resources, we approach the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Wide recognition of the EEZ has assured the stable legal environment essential for billion dollar investments. Now, a warming arctic and advances in technology are drawing attention to areas of the continental margin outside the EEZ. 

The seabed north of Alaska is the most promising of these areas. Recent studies suggest that due to its unique geology, the continental margin north of Alaska may extend 600 nautical miles or more from shore. There are reports of natural gas releases from the seafloor at nearly as great a distance. The Alaskan arctic isn’t the only region with potential energy resources beyond the EEZ. The continental margins off of South Carolina and south of Alaska extend beyond the EEZ as well. There are also large areas of the sea bed of some US Pacific Ocean Island Territories that might be claimed as our extended continental shelf.

The lack of clarity of the legal status of the continental margin beyond the continental shelf was a serious concern to US policymakers throughout the 1970s. In 1970 the Nixon Administration proposed a new intermediate region between the shelf and the abyssal plains in which the coastal state would manage exploitation and share royalties with the international community. Over the course of the Law of the Sea negotiations, US diplomats quietly negotiated the extension of US sovereignty over seabed resources from the edge of the continental shelf to the full extent of a new 200 mile EEZ, securing vast areas of the seabed with potential for energy and hard mineral resources. 

But as US companies look to the seafloor beyond the EEZ, investors and developers must consider the international perspective of conducting operations beyond the uncontested area of the EEZ. The Law of the Sea negotiations designed a process by which a coastal state may submit the boundary of an extended continental shelf to an international body of experts for confirmation of conformity with the criteria of the Convention. With such confirmation, coastal state jurisdiction over the resources of the region would be recognized by all parties. This part of the Convention has been accepted by every president since Gerald Ford, republican and democrat alike.

If the US remains outside the Convention, we will still lay claim to the full continental margin off our shores as a right inherent in our national sovereignty, but other nations will not agree. Such disagreement is a serious matter for multinational companies that seek foreign investment, conduct business in foreign nations and sell in foreign markets. 

In 1981, the Reagan Administration review of the Draft Convention on the Law of the Sea found that it could be possible for the US to exploit minerals of the deep seabed outside a convention, but only if all other significant producers remained outside as well. As the only major non-party nation with significant energy resources beyond the EEZ , our firms must be concerned about possible foreign discrimination or even legal action in response to exploitation of these resources without international recognition and without sharing of royalties as provided in the convention. 

International recognition and clear title to recovered resources are essential to any energy firm that invests, operates or markets beyond our shores. The provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention related to the extended continental shelf and the sharing of royalties within it were negotiated with the advice, participation and approval of industry and continue to be supported by individual energy firms and the American Petroleum Institute. I agree with them that the Convention’s provisions on the extended continental shelf are in the economic interest of the United States. I hope that consideration of US policies for this new region, including the establishment of agreed maritime boundaries with Canada in the Beaufort Sea and with Mexico and Cuba in the eastern gap in the Gulf of Mexico, will be designed to conform with possible US accession to the Law of the Sea Convention and will utilize the Convention’s requirements for international sharing on information related to the impact of seabed development on the marine environment for our own benefit if and when the US Senate gives its advice and consent.

That concludes my statement. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before you today.

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