Monday, June 4, 2012

Conference: The Regulation of Continental Shelf Development: Rethinking International Standards

On June 21-22, 2012, the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia School of Law, University of Virginia and the Marine & Environmental Law Institute at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University will host a conference on "The Regulation of Continental Shelf Development: Rethinking International Standards," in Halifax. The program is here. Here's the idea:

The purpose of this conference is to convene leading experts from around the world to consider the state of existing and further need for international regulation of continental shelf activities, focusing in particular on the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.

In 2010 the Deep Water Horizon casualty in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico triggered widespread concern over the regulatory and management regime with far reaching implications for safety, environmental and economic impacts. In addition to concerns raised by drilling in deep waters, there are also other concerns over new uses of the seabed and subsoil within national jurisdiction and the applicable standards to be addressed at the conference.

It is likely that the probability of casualties associated with industrial uses of the world’s oceans cannot be eliminated. Perhaps by implication, any activity in a hazardous environment, especially deep ocean areas, carries an inherent risk which calls for its anticipation, management and response.

In 2012 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention) will experience the 30th anniversary since it was adopted in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 10 December 1982. Thirty years since adoption, and in light of recent events, it is appropriate to return to the regime of the continental shelf and consider its capacity to address uses that pose special risks and hazards to marine safety and the environment.

At the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) the regulation of activities on the continental shelf per se received insufficient attention. For the most part, the resulting LOS Convention focused on the consolidation and allocation of sovereign rights and jurisdictions of the coastal state, the protection of limited international uses of the continental shelf (e.g., submarine cables and pipelines) and two specific provisions on pollution from seabed activities within national jurisdiction. Other provisions concerning the protection and preservation of the marine environment applied to uses of the continental shelf.

To date, there is no global intergovernmental organization dedicated to standard-setting and rule-making for offshore oil and gas development. The most proximate organization is the International Seabed Authority, but whose competence is restricted to activities related to the international seabed area. The lack of international conventional law governing the operational aspects of continental shelf activity may be characterised as unfinished business of UNCLOS III.