Offshore Oil

January 22, 1946

Report Outline
Federal State Clash on Submergedland
Offshore Oil Question in Congress
Jurisdiction Over the Continental Shelf

Federal State Clash on Submergedland

Issues in Dispute Before Congress and High Court

Whether the lands under the marginal sea, between low-water mark and the three-mile limit, belong to the respective bordering states or are a part of the public domain of the United States is to be determined soon either by Congress or by the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee will open hearings Feb. 5 on a House-approved joint resolution abandoning to the states any federal right or interest in the submerged lands. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has given the State of California until Jan. 28 to file its reply to a test suit instituted by the Department of Justice to establish federal claims to submerged lands off the coast of that state.

Enactment of the proposed quitclaim legislation, vigorously pressed by Attorney General Robert W. Kenny of California, would remove the basis of the federal government's case before the Supreme Court and settle the disputed issue once and for all. The attorneys general of most of the states, including those in the interior of the country as well as those along the coasts, are supporting the quitclaim resolution as a measure to protect state rights. Their support has been enlisted on the theory that recognition of federal claims to submerged coastal lands would enable the federal government to assert title also to the land under all navigable waters, to harbor improvements, and to extensive city districts developed on filled land.

Secretary of the Interior Ickes, whose department has jurisdiction over public lands, regards such fears as groundless. In a letter to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, June 20, 1945, he declared: “The issue here is not one of states' rights. It is oil—who owns and who gets some of the specific valuable oil off the coast of California.” As such, the issue “involves the control of the vast wealth and natural resources vital to the security of this nation.” Ickes said that “from the time I first realized that there were substantial legal doubts as to the validity of the states' claim to submerged coastal lands below low-water mark, I felt it inconsistent with my responsibilities as a Cabinet officer to renounce any claims which the United States may have to these lands.” He contended that the dispute was basically a question of law which “should be settled by the courts created by the Constitution and the Congress for that purpose.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oil and Gasoline Prices
Jun. 22, 2012  U.S. Oil Dependence
Nov. 01, 2011  Future of the Gulf States
Jan. 04, 2008  Oil Jitters Updated
Jul. 2007  Energy Nationalism
Sep. 30, 2005  Domestic Energy Development
Jan. 24, 2003  Oil Diplomacy
Aug. 07, 1998  Oil Production in the 21st Century
Aug. 23, 1991  Oil Imports
Oct. 30, 1987  Persian Gulf Oil
Apr. 04, 1986  Oil Prices
Dec. 23, 1983  Quest for Energy Independence
Sep. 23, 1983  OPEC: 10 Years After the Arab Oil Boycott
May 29, 1981  Western Oil Boom
Aug. 25, 1978  Oil Imports
Feb. 10, 1978  Oil Antitrust Action
Dec. 17, 1976  Alaskan Development
May 17, 1974  Arab Oil Money
Mar. 15, 1974  Oil Taxation
Jul. 18, 1973  Offshore Oil Search
Mar. 28, 1973  Persian Gulf Oil
Nov. 01, 1972  Gasoline Prices
Oct. 14, 1970  Fuel Shortages
Nov. 12, 1969  Alaskan Oil Boom
Dec. 11, 1968  Oil Shale Development
Oct. 26, 1960  World Oil Glut
Sep. 10, 1958  Middle East Oil
Oct. 30, 1951  Oil Nationalization
Aug. 11, 1950  Oil Imports
Apr. 23, 1947  Oil of the Middle East
Jan. 22, 1946  Offshore Oil
Mar. 09, 1944  Oil Supply
Dec. 24, 1935  Oil in World Politics
May 07, 1931  Control of Production in the Oil Industry
Mar. 27, 1929  The Oil Leasing Policy of the New Administration
Jun. 08, 1927  Oil Conservation and Stabilization
Feb. 08, 1926  The Mexican Land and Petroleum Laws
Apr. 18, 1925  The Price of Gasoline
Feb. 11, 1924  Background of the Oil Lease Cases
Sep. 01, 1923  Gasoline
Land Resources and Property Rights
Oil and Natural Gas
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations