As an international litigation attorney, I’m frequently contacted to advise or comment on international business disputes that are of great interest to the media.
Why isn’t the BP Oil Spill an International Matter?
On several occasions in the past few weeks, I’ve been asked the same question: Why is the BP oil disaster a U.S. domestic matter when the spill occurred 50 miles off the U.S. coast in international waters?
I think it’s a great question given the breadth and scope of the spill.
Here’s the Short Answer
The short answer is that the spill is a domestic matter because it occurred within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the United States.
While the EEZ is technically in international waters, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, a sovereign state has exclusive marine resource rights extending 200 miles from the baseline of its territorial waters.
May Become International Matter
While—right now—the spill is technically a domestic matter for the United States, the spill may very well spread to neighboring countries.
If this were to occur, the spill would become a transnational environmental disaster, triggering a host of global conventions, international treaties–and even international lawsuits.
There are some who argue that the BP oil spill already is an international matter.
Others take the position that such accidents are not addressed in international law at all. According to Tim Stephens, a senior lecturer on the law faculty at the University of Sydney and the co-author of a forthcoming textbook on the law of the sea, the international maritime conventions apply “primarily or exclusively” to accidents involving tankers, not to accidents involving oil platforms, like the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Both interesting and compelling arguments that are worthy of further debate.
But for right now, the international legal community is treating the BP oil disaster as a domestic matter for the United States.
A very bad domestic matter at that.