US, Mexico open transboundary waters to oil and gas exploitation

Officials from the United States and Mexico on Feb. 20 signed an agreement that opens the way for exploration and development of oil and natural gas reservoirs along the two countries’ maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico. Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations Patricia Espinosa, and Mexican Minister of Energy Jordy Herrera joined Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, for the signing ceremony. The signing took place on the sidelines of at a ministerial meeting of Group of 20 nations. As a result of the agreement, nearly 1.5 million acres of the US Outer Continental Shelf will now be made more accessible for exploration and production activities. Estimates by the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) indicate this area contains as much as 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The agreement establishes a framework for US companies and Mexico’s Pemex to enter into agreements to jointly develop transboundary reservoirs.

The agreement opens up resources amounting to 166 blocks in the so-called “Western Gap” that were off limits to both countries under a 2000 provision of the 1978 Treaty on Maritime Boundaries. A 10-year moratorium imposed by that provision was extended through 2014 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The administrations of Barack Obama and Felipe Calderón now say they will incorporate safety insights from the 2010 spill into future plans for the waters. The new agreement won’t take force until both nations’ legislatures—the Senate in the case of the US—sign off.

Calderón acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue in Mexico, saying: “I will say this with great candor. We are setting aside the old fear that honestly exists among many Mexicans that Mexico’s oil could be extracted unilaterally from the other side of the border.” (ENS, Reuters, AFP, Fuel Fix, Market News International, Feb. 20; Energy Law Advisor)

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