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Treating Offshore Submerged Lands as Public Lands: A Historical Perspective


Robin Kundis Craig


University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

October 24, 2013

34 Public Land & Resources Law Review 51 (2013)
University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 21

Abstract:     
When President Harry Truman proclaimed federal control over the United States’s continental shelf in 1945, he did so primarily to secure the energy resources — oil and gas — embedded in those submerged lands. Nevertheless, the mineral wealth of the continental shelf spurred two critical legal battles over their control and disposition: First, whether the federal government had any interest in the first three miles of continental shelf; and second, if so, whether the federal government had authority to regulate the continental shelf under traditional federal public land laws, such as the Minerals Leasing Act. Congress’s reactions to federal courts’ resolutions of these questions, embodied in 1953 in the Submerged Lands Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, continue to provide the foundations for state and federal management of the nation’s continental shelf and its energy resources.

Nevertheless, the Outer Continental Shelf’s status as federal public lands remains ambiguous. This Article takes an historical approach to assessing that issue, reviewing the traditional definition of federal “public lands” and the historical context of the public lands issues that arose for the Outer Continental Shelf. It concludes that the Outer Continental Shelf, from a natural resources perspective, qualifies as the newest of the federal public lands, but it also acknowledges that — unlike for many other public lands — federal statutes repeatedly and consistently exclude the states from gaining ownership of those submerged lands.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

Keywords: public land, OCSLA, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Submerged Lands Act, continental shelf, offshore oil

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Date posted: December 28, 2012 ; Last revised: October 26, 2013

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis, Treating Offshore Submerged Lands as Public Lands: A Historical Perspective (October 24, 2013). 34 Public Land & Resources Law Review 51 (2013); University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 21. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2194174

Contact Information

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )
332 S. 1400 East Front
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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