Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

New oil drilling leases in Alaska November 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — galenaduba @ 3:29 pm

Despite ominous reports from the National Oil Spill Commission and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), both of which cite an inadequate regulatory structure as a cause of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, the Obama administration has announced plans to sell new offshore drilling leases on Alaska’s outer continental shelf.

The CSB, which has yet to finalize its investigation, reports that U.S. regulations are structured so that oil companies just need to comply with minimum safety requirements. Most nations that engage in oil and gas exploration compel companies to continually improve safety programs by establishing safety objectives. This system, known as the “safety case,” requires companies to outline the potential hazards of their rigs and then analyze safety measures and accident response protocols in response to the hazards they have identified.

Under the “safety case” system, safety is required. Companies have to propose measures to address hazards, and then they must justify why those measures are safe. I think that it would be very beneficial to require “safety” of oil companies, rather than having our government agencies try to determine minimum standards. For one thing, it puts the burden on oil companies to identify potential dangers. If new technology presented new hazards, for example, the company would be responsible for figuring out what they were and how they could be addressed. This process would keep safety programs current. In addition, this type of system would isolate safety concerns from political pressures. Whenever an agency proposes new regulations, whether they are in response to new technology or changed conditions, industry howls that onerous regulations are destroying jobs. Political pressure to avoid such conflicts would be mitigated if the responsibility was on the industry itself, rather than on the government to adapt safety protocols to changing circumstances.

Even though reports and commissions have identified problems in our regulatory structure, there have been no significant regulatory changes in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. And now we are planning to sell new leases in Alaska?  In our current political climate, I worry that a focus on “jobs” and an anti-regulatory fervor is leading us to environmental disaster.


993524_f520 November 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — galenaduba @ 6:50 pm


Well, after class yesterday, I was very interested in discovering more about mining bird poo. It turns out that not only can you acquire rights to mine valuable minerals on federal land in the U.S., you can also take possession of any ungoverned “island, rock, or key” for the U.S. if you discover guano there. 48 U.S.C. ss 1141-1149. About 60 islands have been claimed under this act, and it’s still in effect!
Guano has economic value as a fertilizer because of its high nitrogen content. It was traded pretty heavily in the 19th century. One of the conditions of the Guano Islands Act was that the guano could only go to the U.S., and the prices at which “miners” could sell the guano was fixed by the government.The act mentions that the navy can be used to defend these islands, and also disclaims any obligation to remain in possession of the islands once the guano has been removed.
I’m interested to know where this fits in with our ideas about mining, and how it is similar to and different than our other mining laws. It seems like, in the Guano Islands Act, the citizen does not get some of the discoverer/ locator rights from the Mining Act. They are only permitted to sell to the U.S., and they don’t get any opportunity to acquire a permanent property interest through filing a patent.
I also think it is fascinating that the government takes it upon itself to give rights to land that are not U.S. territory. The statute itself says that this is constitutional, but somehow, it seems sort of fishy to me.


The Roadless Rule October 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — galenaduba @ 6:36 pm