Last updated

Tidelands are the territory between the tide line of sea coasts, and lands lying under the sea beyond the low-water limit of the tide, considered within the territorial waters of a nation. The United States Constitution does not specify whether ownership of these lands rests with the federal government or with individual states. Originally little commercial value was attached to tidelands, so ownership was never firmly established, but the coastal states generally proceeded as if they were the owners. Some states, such as Mississippi, directly administer these lands under the public trust doctrine.


The question arose for federal nations whether the tidelands for formerly independent coastal states had been ceded to the federal union on admission, or retained. The admission of the former Republic of Texas as a state in the United States in 1845 stipulated that its tidelands remained the territory of Texas. This has been an issue for oil and natural gas leases and federally funded development that affects such tidelands.

For other states that were formerly independent, such as the Thirteen Colonies, there was no explicit retention of state sovereignty and the federal government had long asserted its own sovereignty over their tidelands.

20th century incidentals

The value of tidelands increased when it became known that vast oil and natural gas deposits lay within their limits and that modern technology made retrieval of these minerals commercially profitable. The first offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico began production in 1938 in shallow water one mile (1.6 km) off the Louisiana coast; in 1947, a second well began to operate off the coast of Terrebonne Parish, also in Louisiana.

United States v. California [1] was filed by the Federal government against California in 1946. On 23 June 1947, the Supreme Court of the United States decided against California. The decision meant the loss of untold millions of dollars in taxes and leasing fees by the states. The states whose tidelands were thought to contain minerals objected strongly to the decision.

The issue became important in the 1952 presidential campaign. [2] The Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, pledged legislation that would restore the tidelands to the states. Eisenhower won the election, and, in 1953, Congress passed two acts that fulfilled his campaign promise. The Submerged Lands Act extended state ownership to three geographical miles (almost exactly 3 nautical miles or 5.6 kilometres) from their actual coastline, or further if a state could establish the existence of a boundary in judicial proceedings. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gave the United States paramount rights from the point where state ownership leaves off to the point where international waters begin.

The 1953 acts did not end all controversy, however. The Submerged Lands Act, in particular, was so badly drawn up that state taxes and leasing fees had to be put in escrow, pending final resolution of the numerous lawsuits that emerged. The Supreme Court finally decided the issue on 31 May 1960, when it ruled that Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana owned the rights to the offshore lands for a distance of three geographical miles (3 nautical miles or 5.6 kilometres), and Texas and Florida owned rights to tidelands within three marine leagues (9 nautical miles or 17 kilometres), from their coastline boundaries. [3] In the case of Texas, the claim to special boundary limits had been recognized by Congress in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which ended the Mexican–American War. The ruling for Florida was based on congressional approval of Florida's claims when the state re-entered the Union after the American Civil War.

Although the other Gulf states objected to what they considered preferential treatment for Florida and Texas, no new legislation resulted. In 1963, the United States Department of Justice settled the last of the tidelands controversies by ruling that the 1953 act gave control to the states of islands near the shore that were created after the states had been admitted to the Union.

See also


Related Research Articles

In the United States, a territory is any extent of region under the sovereign jurisdiction of the federal government of the United States, including all waters. The United States asserts sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing its territory. This extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States federal government for administrative and other purposes. The United States total territory includes a subset of political divisions.

Riparian water rights is a system for allocating water among those who possess land along its path. It has its origins in English common law. Riparian water rights exist in many jurisdictions with a common law heritage, such as Canada, Australia, and states in the eastern United States.

Price Daniel American judge

Marion Price Daniel Sr., was an American jurist and politician who served as a Democratic U.S. Senator and the 38th Governor of the state of Texas. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be a member of the National Security Council, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and Assistant to the President for Federal-State Relations. Daniel also served as Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Offshore drilling Mechanical process where a wellbore is drilled below the seabed

Offshore drilling is a mechanical process where a wellbore is drilled below the seabed. It is typically carried out in order to explore for and subsequently extract petroleum that lies in rock formations beneath the seabed. Most commonly, the term is used to describe drilling activities on the continental shelf, though the term can also be applied to drilling in lakes, inshore waters and inland seas.

Oil and gas law in the United States is the branch of law that pertains to the acquisition and ownership rights in oil and gas both under the soil before discovery and after its capture, and adjudication regarding those rights.

Outer Continental Shelf Maritime U.S. federal zone of jurisdiction beyond the jurisdiction of the individual states

The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is a feature of the geography of the United States. The OCS is the part of the internationally recognized continental shelf of the United States which does not fall under the jurisdictions of the individual U.S. states.

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill Oil platform blow-out fouled the coast of California resulting in environmental legislation

The Santa Barbara oil spill occurred in January and February 1969 in the Santa Barbara Channel, near the city of Santa Barbara in Southern California. It was the largest oil spill in United States waters by that time, and now ranks third after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and 1989 Exxon Valdez spills. It remains the largest oil spill to have occurred in the waters off California.

Rigs-to-Reefs Program for converting decommissioned offshore oil and petroleum rigs into artificial reefs

Rigs-to-Reefs (RTR) is the practice of converting decommissioned offshore oil and petroleum rigs into artificial reefs. Such biotic reefs have been created from oil rigs in the United States, Brunei and Malaysia. In the United States, where the practice started and is most common, Rigs-to-Reefs is a nationwide program developed by the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), now Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

United States offshore drilling debate

The U.S. offshore drilling debate is an ongoing debate in the United States on whether or not, the extent to which, in which areas, and under what conditions, further offshore drilling should be allowed in U.S.-administered waters.

Gulf of Mexico Atlantic Ocean basin extending into southern North America

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States; on the southwest and south by the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo; and on the southeast by Cuba. The US states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, which border the Gulf on the north, are often referred to as the "Third Coast" of the United States.

Offshore oil and gas in the United States provides a large portion of the nation’s oil and gas supply. Large oil and gas reservoirs are found under the sea offshore from Louisiana, Texas, California, and Alaska. Environmental concerns have prevented or restricted offshore drilling in some areas, and the issue has been hotly debated at the local and national levels.

Offshore oil and gas in California

Offshore oil and gas in California provides a significant portion of the state's petroleum production. Offshore oil and gas has been a contentious issue for decades, first over the question of state versus federal ownership, but since 1969 mostly over questions of resource development versus environmental protection.

Offshore drilling on the Atlantic coast of the United States

Offshore drilling for oil and gas on the Atlantic coast of the United States took place from 1947 to the early 1980s. Oil companies drilled five wells in Atlantic Florida state waters and 51 exploratory wells on federal leases on the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic coast. None of the wells were completed as producing wells. All the leases have now reverted to the government.

Offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico is a major source of oil and natural gas in the United States. The western and central Gulf of Mexico, which includes offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, is one of the major petroleum-producing areas of the United States. Oil production from US federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time annual high of 1.65 million barrels per day in 2017. Oil production is expected to continue the upward trend in 2018 and 2019, based on ten new oil fields which are planned to start production in those years. According to the Energy Information Administration, "Gulf of Mexico federal offshore oil production accounts for 17% of total U.S. crude oil production and federal offshore natural gas production in the Gulf accounts for 5% of total U.S. dry production."

The Submerged Lands Act of 1953 is a U.S. federal law that recognized the title of the states to submerged navigable lands within their boundaries at the time they entered the Union. They include navigable waterways, such as rivers, as well as marine waters within the state's boundaries, generally three geographical miles from the coastline.

Texas General Land Office

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) is a state agency of the U.S. state of Texas, responsible for managing lands and mineral rights properties that are owned by the state. The GLO also manages and contributes to the state's Permanent School Fund. The agency has its headquarters in the Stephen F. Austin State Office Building in Downtown Austin.

Carpinteria Offshore Oil Field

The Carpinteria Offshore Oil Field is an oil and gas field in Santa Barbara Channel, south of the city of Carpinteria in southern California in the United States. Discovered in 1964, and reaching peak production in 1969, it has produced over 106 million barrels of oil in its lifetime, and retains approximately 2 million barrels in reserve recoverable with present technology, according to the California State Department of Natural Resources. Currently the field is produced from three drilling platforms four to five miles offshore, within Federal waters outside of the tidelands zone. Two of the platforms are operated by Pacific Operators Offshore LLC (PACOPS), the operating arm of Carpinteria-based Carone Petroleum; the other platform is operated by Dos Cuadras Offshore Resources (DCOR). The Carpinteria field is the 50th largest field in California by total original oil in place, as of the end of 2008.

The Texas Permanent School Fund is a sovereign wealth fund which serves to provide revenues for funding of public primary and secondary education in the US state of Texas. Its assets include many publicly owned lands within Texas and various other investments; as of the end of fiscal 2020, the fund had an endowment of $48.3 billion. The fund is distinct from the Permanent University Fund, which funds most institutions in the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System, but no other public universities or schools in the state.

Offshore Energy and Jobs Act

The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act is a bill that was introduced into the United States House of Representatives during the 113th United States Congress. The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act would revise existing law governing the leasing, operation, and development of oil and natural gas resources available in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The bill is primarily supported by Republicans and is opposed by President Barack Obama.

Dinkum Sands

Dinkum Sands is an uninhabited shoal that frequently breaches the surface of the Beaufort Sea north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, between Cross Island and the McClure Islands. Located near the three-mile limit that defines the border between state and federal control of waters offshore of the United States, Dinkum Sands became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case when the American and Alaskan governments argued over ownership of potentially valuable offshore oil drilling rights. In United States v. Alaska, the court ruled in part that "Dinkum Sands is not an island constituting part of Alaska's coastline under the Submerged Lands Act".


  1. United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1947)
  2. Wyant, William K (1987). Westward in Eden: The Public Lands and the Conservation Movement. University of California Press. pp. 218–234. ISBN   978-0-520-06183-5.
  3. United States v. Louisiana , 363 U.S. 1 (1960); United States v. Florida, 363 U.S. 121 (1960)

Further reading