Petroleum Activities in Disputed Maritime Areas: Guyana, a New Petroleum Frontier

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Elias-Roberts, Alicia
international law , maritime law , treaties , joint development agreement , unitization agreement , rule of capture , law of the sea , petroleum , oil and gas law , environmental law
New emerging oil and gas exploration and production frontiers like Guyana need clarity on the legal framework governing oil and gas law exploration and production in disputed maritime territories. The existing literature in this area fails to provide a comprehensive analysis of the possible solutions to resolving such disputes from a positivist international law perspective. This work attempts to fill that gap and provide an outline of the legal obligations and restrictions concerning oil and gas development and exploration which can be undertaken in a unilateral manner. This is an area of law which can have huge economic implications for the states concerned and it is therefore very important to promote certainty to the extent possible, about the legal framework in this area. This thesis will clarify the law in this area for states like Guyana, investors, international oil companies, and other relevant stakeholders. It attempts to clarify the legal rights and obligations to conduct unilateral petroleum activities in disputed maritime zones and the legal status of absolute and permanent sovereignty over petroleum resources in the maritime zones. My dissertation advances a limited argument about the positivist international law approach and its application to the area of maritime law under review. It examines several relevant sources of international law in this area. It argues that the positivist international law approach helps to promote certainty to a certain extent, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Apart from the positivist approach to international law in the area under review, another point which is examined in this dissertation is the modern conception of state sovereignty. It demonstrates how state sovereignty is impacted by the development of maritime law and the control of resources in offshore areas. It also demonstrates that the current state of the law is certain only to the extent that absolute sovereignty doesn’t exist. Some of the principal conclusions of this research include that the requirements for the formation of customary international law from a positive international law perspective promotes certainty in the law. This research also concludes that treaties such as joint development zone agreements and unitisation agreements are good examples of positive sources of international law which help to provide solutions for maritime boundary disputes. However, these agreements do not represent customary international law. It argues that there is a customary international law requiring states to cooperate but there is no customary international law requiring states to enter into joint development zone agreements and unitisation agreements. It also concludes that there is no customary international law creating a rule of capture in international law. Importantly, it also discusses the varying degrees of limitations on state sovereignty in the various maritime zones, such as in the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. Another conclusion is that Articles 74(3) and 83(3) of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are useful to help resolve maritime boundary disputes, but these treaty provisions do not reflect customary international law obligations. The point here is that there is often a leap from treaty law to customary international law and I will closely examine the relationship between the two to demonstrate that the criteria for the establishment of customary international law are not satisfied in this instance.
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