I arrived in Anchorage this week for the 61st Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Annual Institute. Some of you may already be familiar with the organization, having attended the Title Examination course in Denver this spring, or perhaps have visited one of the many seminars they offer on various oil and gas topics throughout the Denver area. I’ve always been impressed by the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation’s Institutes. Not only are the topics relevant and interesting, but it’s also a great chance to rub elbows with some of the most prolific oil and gas professionals in the world.
I had to turn my game face on as soon as I arrived at the airport gate. Familiar faces popped up everywhere- I recognized board members from the organization, partners from big oil and gas law firms in Denver, former government officials, and legendary attorneys and professors that have been working in oil and gas since before my parents were born. At least 50% of the passengers on the flight from Denver to Anchorage were people headed to the conference. I said “hello” and re-introduced myself to the familiar faces. I knew right off the bat that it would be an incredible learning experience.
The content of the conference covered a wide spectrum of topics. There were sections on mining, public land use, and oil & gas law, water law, and international resource development. I was particularly excited for in Saturday morning’s Landman section, and the presenters did not disappoint.
My favorite event was the Natural Resource Teachers Luncheon - for two reasons. First, the speaker, Betsy Baker from the University of Vermont, gave a very interesting presentation on ownership rights in the Arctic Ocean. She had spent time on icebreaker boats in the Arctic with scientists running seismic to measure the continental shelf. The purpose of these expeditions is to help determine who owns the Arctic Circle. Why do we care who owns the Arctic Circle? Because whoever has rights to the Arctic Circle can develop resources there. Nobody actually “owns” the Arctic Circle, but nations can have sovereignty to explore for and exploit natural resources in areas up to 200 nautical miles or to a certain geologically significant “kick off point” of the continental shelf. The sovereignty to explore for and exploit for natural resources includes oil and gas. Whichever nation has sovereignty over that part of the Arctic can potentially drill for oil and gas in that area under its own terms and guidelines. Any parts of the ocean that fall outside of these boundaries are governed under the International Seabed Authority. It is estimated that there are approximately $1.3 TRILLION worth of recoverable resources (mostly oil and gas) in the Arctic, so its no surprise that we see the nations with potential claims to sovereignty over the Arctic (U.S. (via Alaska), Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, and Russia) investing quite a bit of money and science in to proving their ownership beyond 200 nautical miles.
Why is this relevant to oil and gas development, and to us as Landmen? As she presented, I started connecting the dots. Much like companies need to secure oil and gas leases to drill for and develop on onshore lands, we also need leases to develop offshore lands. If a nation has sovereignty over the area, it has the authority to regulate development and issue its own oil and gas leases (and profit from those leases). If the ocean area falls outside of any nations sovereignty, then a lease from the International Seabed Authority is required, which is a much less preferable option for the nations bordering the Arctic. It will take quite a bit of time for the dust to settle on identifying the sovereignty boundaries in the Arctic Circle, but once that is determined, we might see development in the Arctic similar to development in the Gulf of Mexico. Landmen would get involved in developing a regulatory structure, obtaining leases from the government, and working on agreements with other companies to jointly develop the area. Who knew you might have the opportunity to work in the North Pole someday!
I mentioned there were two reasons this event was my favorite- the second reason is that this was my first chance to represent myself as an ambassador of Western. It was my first real opportunity to show off my affiliation and talk to my peers about the program. And let me tell you- I did so with pride! Before the presentation started, I boasted about the PLRM program at Western, and received a great response and good questions from the people at my table.
Its going to be tough leaving the untouched beauty that Alaska has to offer, but it makes it easier knowing that I’m coming back to a new home that’s just as beautiful (and where it actually gets dark at night!), and a new job where I can share all of the things I learned up here with students. I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference, and excited about the starting the upcoming school year!
See you soon!