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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

US Supreme Court rules on California’s undersea borders

(7 January 2015)

On 15 December 2014, the US Supreme Court established fixed coordinates for the federal-state undersea boundary, supporting the resolution agreed upon by both sides of a case brought by the US government and the state of California. Previously, the boundary between state and federal underseas territory was ambulatory dependent on the location of the coastline, but the US and California argued that potential erosion or coastal accretion threatened the stability of the boundary and introduced uncertainty into mineral and renewable energy leasing agreements. Under the new ruling, specific map coordinates will clarify whether state or federal regulators oversee extractive activities in the underseas territories.

The imprecision in the state-federal underseas boundary dates back to 1945, when the federal government sued California for leasing underseas territory for oil drilling off the coast of Long Beach. In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled against California’s claim to underseas territory beyond its coastline. Later, the Submerged Lands Act passed in 1953 allowed states to take possession of territories within three miles of their coastline. Attempts to clarify the definition of ‘coastline’ followed, resulting in a 1966 Supreme Court ruling that defined the coast line and specified its ambulatory nature.

The 2014 Supreme Court ruling, according to Bradley Brownlow of Holland& Knight LLP, is, “welcomed news to regulated entities proposing to undertake offshore activities. They now know with certainty the scope of the laws with which they must comply.” California has not granted a lease for offshore oil drilling since 1968.


Supreme Court Clarifies Limits Of Calif.'s Undersea Borders, 15 December 2014, by Kurt Orzeck of,

Undersea border dispute settled, 15 December 2014, Manteca Bulletin,