The Law: Who Owns the Shelf?

After California, Texas and Louisiana fought Washington for legal title to the tidelands 20 years ago, the issue seemed to be settled. The states lost on legal principle in court, then won from Congress concessions within the three-mile limit. New claimants and new oil prospects, however, have reopened the contest over submerged lands on a grand scale.

The original cases involved territory immediately offshore, most of it within the three miles over which the U.S. claims national sovereignty. The current fight involves rights to the natural resources within the continental shelf, extending many...

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