Outer Continental Shelf

Outer Continental Shelf
See "outer continental shelf" for the generic geographical term
Map of the Outer Continental Shelf

The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is a peculiarity of the political geography of the United States and is the part of the internationally recognized continental shelf of the United States which does not fall under the jurisdictions of the individual U.S. states.


Formally, the OCS is governed by Title 43, Chapter 29 "Submerged Lands", Subchapter III "Outer Continental Shelf Lands", of the U.S. Code. The term "outer Continental Shelf" refers to all submerged lands, its subsoil, and seabed that belong to the United States and are lying seaward and outside of the states' jurisdiction, the latter defined as the “lands beneath navigable waters" in Title 43, Chapter 29, Subchapter I, Section 1301.[1]

The United States OCS has been divided into four leasing regions:[2]

  • Gulf of Mexico OCS Region
  • Atlantic OCS Region
  • Pacific OCS Region
  • Alaska OCS Region

State jurisdiction is defined as follows:[2]

  • Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida are extended 3 marine leagues (approximately 9 nautical miles) seaward from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
  • Louisiana is extended 3 (pre-1954 U.S.) nautical miles (5.560 km; 3.455 mi) seaward[3] of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured (as defined pre-1954 in the U.S.: nautical mile = 6080.2 feet).
  • All other States' seaward limits are extended 3 international nautical miles (5.556 km/3.452 mi) seaward of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Federal jurisdiction is defined under accepted principles of public international law. The seaward limit is defined as the farthest of 200 nautical miles seaward of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured or, if the continental shelf can be shown to exceed 200 nautical miles, a distance not greater than a line 100 nautical miles from the 2,500-meter isobath or a line 350 nautical miles from the baseline.[2]

Outer Continental Shelf limits greater than 200 nautical miles but less than either the 2,500 meter isobath plus 100 nautical miles or 350 nautical miles are defined by a line 60 nautical miles seaward of the foot of the continental slope or by a line seaward of the foot of the continental slope connecting points where the sediment thickness divided by the distance to the foot of the slope equals 0.01, whichever is farthest.[2]

Coastlines are emergent. Thus the landward boundary of the outer continental shelf is a legal construct rather than a physical construct, modified only at intervals by appropriate processes of law.[1]

For legislation concerning the OCS, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation has jurisdiction within the United States Senate.[4] In the House of Representatives, the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources has jursidiction over administration and legislation amending the OSCLA.

Within the United States government, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), also known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOE), and formerly known as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), is the agency charged to provide regulatory oversight of deepwater oil drilling and offshore wind energy sources in U.S. Federal waters that extend beyond State jurisdiction.[5]

See also


  1. ^ US. Code Collection: Title 43, Chapter 29 "Submerged Lands"
  2. ^ a b c d "What is the Outer Continental Shelf?", by Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior
  3. ^ Rivet, Ryan (Summer 2008). "Petroleum Dynamite". Tulanian: pp. 20–27. http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODE/Tulanian/. Retrieved 7 Sep 2009. "Under its original acquisition terms with the federal government in 1803, Louisiana’s mineral rights extended out for only three miles. When [the Federal government was] approached by the [Louisiana governor Earl] Long administration [in 1948], the federal government said it was willing to discuss a compromise and split of the royalties in the area beyond three miles. ... [Ultimately,] Truman [said no]." 
  4. ^ http://commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=About.Jurisdiction U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation
  5. ^ Who is the Minerals Management Service?, U.S. Department of the Interior, accessed 2010-06-13.

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