Monday, April 16, 2018

Oman and the Law of the Sea: Part III

In October 2017, the Sultanate of Oman submitted a formal application to the United Nations to extend its continental shelf. The first and second articles in this three-part series outlined the framework of the international Law of the Sea as relevant to Oman and the international legal process involved when a country seeks to expand its marine territory. This third and final article in the series will explore the dynamics behind and potential benefits arising from Oman’s recent application. 

While Oman’s formal submission marked only the beginning of the process of review and determination by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the “Commission”), the submission was the culmination of a decade-long process of exploration and research by Oman into the possibilities of extending its continental shelf, which requires a detailed science-based submission to be compiled and then presented to the United Nations demonstrating the link between Oman’s landmass and its offshore continental shelf area beyond 200 nautical miles from its coastline.

In 2008, Oman formed its Continental Shelf Boundaries Extension Committee (the “Committee”) following a decision of the Council of Ministers to prioritise the issue. The multidisciplinary Committee spearheaded the application to the Commission and received support from many institutions in Oman, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Oil and Gas, Commerce and Industry, Legal Affairs, Agriculture and Fisheries, the Interior, Environment and Climate Affairs, Transport and Communication, the Royal Oman Police, the Royal Oman Navy, and Sultan Qaboos University, among others.

In 2013, Oman signed a consultancy and supervision services contract with New Zealand-based hydrocarbons research and exploration company GNS Science. In 2015, Oman awarded a contract to Singapore-based joint venture Gardline CGG to facilitate a marine geotechnical survey which consisted of three technical phases: bathymetry, gravity, and magnetic data acquisition; detailed bathymetry and sub-bottom profiling; and deep water rock dredging. The survey formed the basis of the technical data gathered to inform Oman’s application to the Commission.

While applications to the Commission are incredibly technical and extensive, an Executive Summary of Oman’s application may be viewed on the Commission’s website. The Executive Summary discussed what it terms the “Owen Terrace,” the area of continental shelf comprising the subject matter of the application. The Executive Summary describes the Owen Terrace as being composed of continental crust and rocks that are “by nature and origin the same as those of the landmass of Oman,” but importantly are distinct from the materials found on the deep ocean floor and in the nearby Gulf of Aden.

It is probable that Oman’s investment into the extension of its continental shelf will prove worthwhile. In 2014, after being invited by Oman’s Ministry of Oil and Gas to test within offshore oil and gas exploration blocks, Masirah Oil Limited announced the first offshore oil discovery in the east of Oman after more than three decades of exploration activities. The discovery of the presence of oil off the eastern seaboard has lifted hopes for new hydrocarbon finds in Oman’s largely unexplored offshore domain, which stands to be further enlarged if Oman’s application to the Commission succeeds.

While the timeline of the determination of Oman’s application to the Commission remains unclear, a successful submission would greatly benefit Oman as it would allow the Sultanate to exercise exclusive rights over a large area of seabed in the northern Arabian Sea, including the right to explore for and claim oil and gas and other non-living resources.

Click here to read Oman and the Law of the Sea: Part I
Click here to read Oman and the Law of the Sea: Part II