The most important legislation for BOEM is the Outer continental shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), which Congress enacted in 1953. The primary purpose of OCSLA is to facilitate the federal government’s leasing of its offshore mineral resources and energy resources. As the law itself states “ the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public, which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development, subject to environmental safeguards, in a manner which is consistent with the maintenance of competition and other national needs” (43 U.S.C. § 1332(3)).
OCSLA affirmed that the Federal Government exercised exclusive control over the Outer continental shelf (OCS), defined as all submerged lands beyond the lands reserved to the States up to the edge of the United States' jurisdiction and control. The OCLSA provided that "all such applicable laws shall be administered and enforced by the appropriate officers and courts of the United States." The Department of the Interior was given the authority to manage the submerged lands of the OCS. Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), the subsoil and seabed of the outer continental shelf belong to the United States and “are subject to its jurisdiction, control, and power of disposition . . . .” (43 U.S.C. § 1332(1)). ‘Outer continental shelf’ is defined under OCSLA as “all submerged lands lying seaward and outside of the area of lands beneath navigable waters . . . and of which the subsoil and seabed appertain to the United States . . . .” (43 U.S.C. § 1331(a)).
In addition to OCSLA, the Submerged Lands Act (SLA) of 1953 grants individual states rights to the natural resources of submerged lands from the coastline to no more than 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) into the Atlantic, Pacific, the Arctic Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico. The only exceptions are Texas and the west coast of Florida, where state jurisdiction extends from the coastline to no more than 3 marine leagues (16.2 km) into the Gulf of Mexico.
The SLA also reaffirmed the Federal claim to the lands of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which consists of those submerged lands seaward of state jurisdiction. The SLA led to the passage of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act later in 1953 (OCSLA). The OCSLA and subsequent amendments, in later years, outlines the Federal responsibility over the submerged lands of the OCS.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, an amendment to OCSLA, grants BOEM lead management authority for marine renewable energy projects on Federal offshore lands, and other projects that make alternative use of existing oil and natural gas platforms."
On March 10, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Proclamation (5030) which set up the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ consists of those areas adjoining the territorial sea of the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. overseas territories and possessions. The EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastline. About 15 percent of this area lies on the geologic continental shelf and is shallower than 200 m (656 ft). Another 10 to 15 percent lies on the continental slope and rise, between 200 and 2,000 m (656 and 6,562 ft) water depth. The remaining 70–75 percent is abyssal plain where water depths reach 3,000–5,000 m (9,843–16,405 ft). This Proclamation is important to the Department of Interior because it defines the limits of Federal Authority under OCSLA.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) gave the Secretary of the Interior authority over offshore facilities and associated pipelines, with the exception of deepwater ports, for state and Federal offshore waters. The Secretary in turn delegated this OPA 90 authority to BOEM. The resulting tasks for BOEM include the following:
- reviewing spill financial liability limits, and
- certifying spill financial responsibility.
While the OCSLA defines BOEM jurisdiction and regulatory responsibility on Federal offshore lands, other Federal laws play a significant role in the management of offshore operations. Compliance with the provisions of these laws is a major undertaking within BOEM. Some of those laws are the:
- National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) - The NEPA requires a detailed environmental review before any major or controversial Federal action, including the sale of leases on the OCS and the setup of facilities.
- Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA, reauthorized in 1990) - The CAA regulates the emission of air pollutants from industrial activities and defines the scope of DOI’s authority for air quality on the OCS
- Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA, reauthorized in 1990) - The CZMA requires state review and coordination of Federal action that affects the land and water use of the coastal zone.
- Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA) - The CWA, through the issuance of National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System permits, regulates the discharge of toxic and nontoxic pollutants into the surface waters of the U.S. This statute covers some subjects that require coordination between BOEM and other Federal agencies.
- Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act of 1982 (FOGRAMA) - The FOGRAMA requires that oil and gas facilities be built in a way that protects the environment and conserves Federal resources. It also regulates certain aspects of financial responsibility for OCS leaseholders and Operators.
- Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) - The MMPA provides for the protection and conservation of all marine mammals and their habitats. This statute affects BOEM permitting for OCS exploration and development.
- Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) - The ESA requires a permit for the taking of any protected species. It also requires that all Federal actions not significantly impair or jeopardize protected species or their habitats. The ESA mandates that BOEM consult with other Federal agencies in carrying out its regulatory responsibilities. • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) is legislation intended to preserve historic and archaeological sites in the United States of America. This statute governs how BOEM deals with shipwrecks, Indian burial sites and other historic Federal assets on the OCS.