Virginia and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)

By the time Europeans arrived in Virginia, the Atlantic Ocean coastline was marked by marshes and barrier islands on the Eastern Shore and wide sandy beaches south of the Chesapeake Bay. The sailors understood the shoreline was dynamic. New spits of sand could appear after hurricanes, and dangerous new shoals could be created underwater when storms moved the sand. However, it is only recently that we have developed a clear understanding of how much the Virginia coast has changed over time.

The Continental Shelf and a portion of the current Coastal Plain were underwater 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were 20-25 feet higher. At the start of the Wisconsin glacial stage, the Laurentide ice sheet grew, trapping water on land. Sea level dropped and the Virginia coastline migrated to the east, exposing the sediments coating the former ocean bottom. It was not a steady, constant change every year; the ice sheet grew and sea level dropped in distinctive steps. At times the process reversed and sea level rose briefly to drown the land again, with one such "transgression" occurring 35,000 years ago. About 30,000 years ago, the last step was a rapid expansion of the ice sheet and equally-rapid drop in sea level, exposing the last wedge of sediments that had been deposited on the outer edge of the Continental Shelf.1

Outer Continental Shelf (in light blue)
Outer Continental Shelf (in light blue)
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Geology & Geophysics

When the first Virginian's arrived perhaps 15,000 years ago, sea levels were 300-400 feet lower because so much water was locked up in the glaciers and continental ice sheets. The Coastal Plain of Virginia extended much further to the east, where sloping hills and cliffs marked the edge of the land and ocean. Discovery of the original campsites of the first Virginians may require using submersibles to support underwater explorations and excavations.

The Cinmar bipoint was dredged up from the Outer Continental Shelf, 250 feet deep off the coast of Virginia, in 1970. That point had been flaked skillfully from a chunk of volcanic rock (rhyloite) whose original source was South Mountain in modern-day Pennsylvania. The Cinmar bipoint could be dated because it was dredged up together with a mastodon skull that was roughly 25,000 years old. If that date is accurate (the point was not directly lodged in the skull when the scallop dredger pulled the items from the haul...), then early human settlement in Virginia extends far back in time, when the coastline was 40 miles further to the east and those humans were crafting bipoints long before the Clovis style was adopted.2

today, Gwynn's Island Museum is 85 miles from the edge of the Continental Slope
today, Gwynn's Island Museum is 85 miles from the edge of the Continental Slope
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, MarineCadastre.gov National Viewer

Rivers flowing off the Appalachian Mountains dug paths into the newly-exposed Continental Shelf as water levels in the ocean dropped from its last peak, at the start of the Wisconsin Ice Age. The Potomac and James rivers carved separate valleys across the wide Coastal Plain to the salt water, and there was no Chesapeake Bay. The most powerful rivers carved channels even through the Continental Rise, and massive landslides reshaped the cliffs between the canyons. The ancestral Susquehanna River may have carved the Washington Canyon, while the Potomac, Rappahannock, and York Rivers may have combined to etch out the Norfolk Canyon - perhaps with the help of the James River.3

canyons on the edge of the Continental Shelf show former river channels of Pliocene/Pleistocene age
canyons on the edge of the Continental Shelf show former river channels of Pliocene/Pleistocene age
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Deep-Water Mid-Atlantic Canyons Exploration 2011

The ancient, separate river valleys of the Susquehanna and James rivers remain today. Those driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel dip underwater at two locations shaped by those rivers, in a tunnel under the James River channel (Thimble Shoals) and further north under the old path of the Susquehanna River (Chesapeake Channel).

contour lines showing depth of Outer Continental Shelf (in blue) and distance from Virginia shoreline (in black)
contour lines showing depth of Outer Continental Shelf (in blue) and distance from Virginia shoreline (in black)
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, 2006 National Assessment Maps - Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil & Gas Resources

Much of the Coastal Plain that existed 18,000 years ago has been drowned by the rising Atlantic Ocean. The first people who arrived in Virginia witnessed rising sea levels drowning the eastern edge of the Coastal Plain, creating today's Continental Shelf between the current Atlantic Ocean shoreline and the cliffs of the Continental Slope. We still witness sea level rise today, gradually altering the outline of the Chesapeake Bay and continuing to widen the extent of the Continental Shelf.

Outer Continental Shelf, Slope, and Rise
Outer Continental Shelf, Slope (in yellow), and Rise
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Environmental Report: Use of Federal Offshore Sand Resources for Beach and Coastal Restoration in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia (November 1999)

The development of submarines, starting in World War I, increased our capacity to map the seafloor. Today we know:4

The continental shelf is the submarine extension of the coastal plain deposits from the shoreline to about the 200-m water depth, characterized by a gentle slope of a few meters per kilometer (i.e., less than one degree)... During the last low stand of sea level, ice-fed streams carried glacial outwash gravels and sands onto the shelf. Major rivers flowed across the shelf to submarine canyons on the shelf edge and deposited further sediment. As the glacial ice melted during later periods of geologic time, the rivers receded across the shelf, leaving behind their shoreline sediment complexes and associated stream valley features...

The mid-Atlantic Continental Slope is a steep, narrow area paralleling the shelf and extending from the shelf break to depths of about 2,000 m (6,600 feet). The upper slope has gradients ranging from 100 feet per mile to 400 feet per mile, and is incised by numerous submarine canyons. These topographic canyons are primarily features of the northern mid-Atlantic slope. Fourteen of them extend from Lydonia Canyon off Cape Cod south to Norfolk Canyon off the Chesapeake Bay mouth.

Topographically, the mid-Atlantic Continental Slope appears to be much more complex than previously thought. Long-range sidescan-sonar surveys of the slope reveal extensive and rugged terrains of valleys and gullies within the intercanyon areas. In addition, the surveys have revealed many more submarine canyons than are presently shown on bathymetric diagrams.

The continental rise is a gently sloping, wide sedimentary apron extending from the base of the continental slope... Turbidity currents flow down the submarine canyons and form channel systems on the rise, contributing to the accumulation of sediment.
Outer Continental Shelf
Outer Continental Shelf
Source: Department of the Navy, Ocean Floor - Continental Margin & Rise

canyons eroded into Continental Slope (paleoriver channels) when sea levels were lower
canyons eroded into Continental Slope (paleoriver channels) when sea levels were lower
Source: US Geological Survey High-Resolution Multibeam Mapping of Mid-Atlantic Canyons to Assess Tsunami Hazards

Developing the mineral resources below the ocean became technologically feasible in the middle of the 20th Century, greatly increasing interest in the Continental Shelf. Geological investigations revealed that onshore oil fields clearly extended past the coastline, and oil companies sought to build platforms for offshore oil wells. Starting in 1937 state/Federal governments debated whether state or Federal government agencies could grant drilling permits and collect royalties from offshore oil wells.

In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government could control development of offshore mineral resources. The decision established that sovereign rights over the seabed and ocean were acquired by the national government when it replaced the power of the king/Parliament after the American Revolution. According to the Supreme Court, the first 13 colonial governments had not acquired ownership of the seabed through their charters from the king in England, so at the start of the American Revolution the 13 original states did not inherit control over the seabed.5

To resolve the controversy over control of oil underneath the tidelands (i.e., land covered by water near the shore), Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act in 1953. That law granted coastal states control over the bottom of the ocean for three nautical miles offshore (9 miles for Texas and the west coast of Florida). The law also confirmed state ownership of "all lands permanently or periodically covered by tidal waters up to but not above the line of mean high tide." Back in 1819, however, Virginia's General Assembly granted shoreline property owners ownership down to the Mean Low Water line, but that decision does not affect the determination of the Federal/state boundary three nautical miles offshore.6

three mile boundary marking state/Federal control of Outer Continental Shelf
three mile boundary marking state/Federal control of Outer Continental Shelf
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

Defining the boundary three miles offshore requires defining the shoreline itself. However, the ocean-land interface is constantly shifting; the shoreline is not a static line. The Submerged Lands Act measured the line of state/Federal jurisdiction from the "coast line," defined as:7

the line of ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters.

In 1953 Congress also passed the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Land Act, endorsing the national government's claim to the ocean resources issued originally by President Harry Truman. International claims of rights to control navigation, fishing, and economic development of mineral resources led to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Department of the Interior determines the boundary of Federal/state jurisdiction, when defining parcel boundaries for leasing OCS resources such as sand, heavy minerals, and especially hydrocarbons (oil and gas). The Department has adopted the mean lower low water (MLLW) line, as drawn on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administation (NOAA) - National Ocean Service nautical charts, as the coast line. (NOAA uses the average of the lower low water height of each tidal day to draw the the mean lower low water or MLLW line.) Because the boundary changes as storms, currents, or even construction projects reshape the shoreline, the Federal government is partnering with the states to adopt a fixed set of geographic coordinates to "immobilize" the boundary, eliminating future changes and minimizing confusion regarding jurisdiction.8

More legal wrangling was required after 1953 to clarify the relative power of the states/Federal government over the Outer Continental Shelf, beyond the 3 nautical mile limit. In United States v. Maine, Virginia claimed that its colonial charters granted the state exclusive jurisdiction of Atlantic Ocean resources for 100 miles beyond the coastline.9 The US Supreme Court rejected that claim in 1975, affirming state control over the "inner" Continental Shelf but ensuring Federal authority over the Outer Continental Shelf.

International standards for ocean boundaries are established in an international treaty. President Clinton signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty in 1994, after it was modified to resolve President Reagan's concerns regarding international controls on deep sea mining of polymetallic (iron/manganese) nodules. However, Senate approval is required to finalize the US commitment to the treaty. Congress has never ratified it, declining once again in 2012 due in part to concerns that the International Seabed Authority could limit US sovereignty. (The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, and is not part of the United Nations.) 10

mean lower low water (MLLW) is below Mean Sea Level (MSL), so the boundary between Federal-state jurisdiction<br> 
defined by the Department of the Interior extends slightly further ofshore and states have a claim to a slightly-larger acreage of submerged lands
mean lower low water (MLLW) is below Mean Sea Level (MSL), so the boundary between Federal-state jurisdiction defined by the Department of the Interior extends slightly further ofshore and states have a claim to a slightly-larger acreage of submerged lands
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tidal Datums

Consistent with the treaty (even though Congress has not ratified it), the United States claims a Territorial Sea for 12 nautical miles offshore. The starting point for defining offshore vs. inland waters is the "baseline," defined by the US as the line of mean low low water (MLLW) as mapped on the most-detailed (large scale) NOAA nautical charts.11

The US exercises sovereignty over its Territorial Sea, the air space above it, and the seabed and subsoil beneath it, but foreign-flag ships enjoy the right of innocent passage. The Federal government also claims a Contiguous Zone out to 24 miles (12 miles further than the Territorial Sea), allowing enforcement of federal customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitary laws (but otherwise the US does not exercise sovereignty in the Contiguous Zone). Finally, the US claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending from 12-200 nautical miles offshore, with exclusive rights to develop and manage marine resources - including energy and mineral resources on the seabed, such as oil/natural gas and iron/manganese nodules.

significant offshore boundaries beyond the three mile boundary
significant offshore boundaries beyond the three mile boundary
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

While the Federal government claims full ownership of lands outside the state claims, in 1986 Congress created the Revenue Sharing Boundary in section 8(g) of the OCS Lands Act amendments so the Federal government will share a "fair and equitable" portion of offshore revenues. The 8(g) Zone extends 3 miles beyond the state waters, and the Federal government gives coastal states 27% of revenues from oil/gas and renewable energy leases (i.e., offshore wind turbines) located in the 8(g) Zone.12

NOAA has rules with complicated mathematics involving equidistant arcs that guide how to map the baseline between headlands and across the mouths of rivers, bays, and estuaries. The baseline is dynamic ("ambulatory"), subject to change due to accretion and erosion of the shore. Permanent structures built on the shoreline, such as jetties, groins, and breakwaters, can alter the baseline. Such structures can extend the US determination of the EEZ further into the ocean, and extend state control as well based on the Submerged Lands Act. Altered baselines affect how revenues from offshore oil/gas and sand mining operations are distributed, and can change responsibility for whether state or Federal agencies can authorize offshore wind towers.13

protraction diagrams defining blocks of territory for offshore leasing by Federal government
protraction diagrams defining blocks of territory for offshore leasing by Federal government
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Atlantic Cadastral Data - NJ18-08 Chincoteague

Therefore, Virginia could receive 100% of lease bonuses, rents, and royalties of any petroleum leases issued within 3 miles of the coastline, which the state would authorize. For leases between 3-6 miles off the coast, Virginia would be entitled to 27% of any lease bonuses, rents, and royalties for leases issued by the Federal government. Beyond 6 miles, however, the Federal government would receive all revenues associated with easing submerged lands on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The various ownership boundaries migrate as the shoreline changes. As sea level rises and the Virginia shoreline recedes westward, the boundary between state/Federal waters will move as well. Royalties and regulatory authority for offshore wind turbines or oil/gas wells could be affected in the future, if boundary shifts cause state-approved facilities built within three nautical miles of the coastline to end up in Federal waters.

As noted by the Office of Coast Survey in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):14

Maritime limits and boundaries for the United States are measured from the official U.S. baseline, recognized as the low-water line along the coast as marked on the NOAA nautical charts... Because U.S. maritime limits change, based on accretion or erosion of the charted shoreline, Coast Survey, in conjunction with the U.S. Baseline Committee, continually maintains the dataset. When NOAA releases a new nautical chart the maritime limits and boundaries are updated as needed. .. Since "low-water line" does not reference a specific tidal datum, the U.S. applies the term to reference the lowest charted datum, which is mean lower low water (MLLW).

OCS boundaries
OCS boundaries
Source: based on graphic at Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Marine Boundaries

The United States is considering extending its claim beyond the 200 nautical mile limit, to encompass the entire Outer Continental Shelf. Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea would allow extending American claims from 200 nautical miles to as much as 350 nautical miles east of the shoreline, based on the location of the foot (bottom) of the Continental Slope. Most effort is focused now on defining the edge of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean, as the basis for clarifying boundaries between Russia, Canada, and the US, but the US government is exploring the potential for an extension of the EEZ in the Atlantic as well.

how to define the boundaries of the Outer Continental Shelf beyond the standard 200 mile limit
how Law of the Sea allows a nation to define the boundaries of the Outer Continental Shelf beyond the standard 200 mile limit
Source: Extended Continental Shelf Project

boundaries of the Outer Continental Shelf may not extend beyond constraint lines defined by the Convention on the Law of the Sea
boundaries of the Outer Continental Shelf may not extend beyond "constraint lines" defined by the Convention on the Law of the Sea
Source: Extended Continental Shelf Project

Responsibility for the land and water off the Virginia coast is split between the state and Federal government. Virginia controls the first three miles offshore, based on the authority in the Submerged Lands Act in 1953. Between 3-200 miles, the Federal government is responsible for resource management and will determine if windmills, subsea dredging/strip mining for mineral nodules, or oil drilling platforms will be permitted on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Federal agencies issue permits for species harvest and mineral extraction, beyond state waters, to the limit of US claims. For example, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a part of the Department of the Interior, is responsible for offshore leasing outside of state waters.

Migratory fish are managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). The Federal agency sets harvest limits and ensures compliance in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) outside of state waters, after coordination with Virginia and six other coastal states that belong to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Virginia controls fishing and mining for three miles offshore, but uses interstate and federal partnerships to synchronize species and ecosystem management. To manage migratory fish, crabs, and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia must focus on cooperation with just one state - Maryland. To manage migratory species in state waters in the Atlantic Ocean, however, 15 Atlantic Coast states have partnered to create the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. That organization for adopts interstate fishery management plans for species within state waters (within the 3-mile limit) along the East Coast.15

Potential development of offshore oil and gas resources (including gas hydrates) in the Federal portion of the EEZ have generated great interest. The Federal government defined potentia lease area on the OCS for multiple Federal oil and gas leases, and Governor McDonnell has strongly advocated for making Virginia the "Energy Capital of the East Coast."

The governor does not have authority to lease hydrocarbons more than three miles from the coast, however. A Federal agency in the Department of the Interior prepares the 5-year schedule of oil and gas lease sales. No recoverable reserves of oil and gas are thought to be within the three-mile limit, limiting the ability of the governor to spur development of petroleum resources, but Virginia has approved offshore wind energy platforms within state waters.

the warm Gulf Stream affects what lives on the ocean bottom and in the water column above the Outer Continental Shelf
the warm Gulf Stream affects what lives on the ocean bottom and in the water column above the Outer Continental Shelf
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Explorer

2012 proposed Federal wind energy lease area (green blocks) is far offshore, but transmission line carrying electricity to the mainland would run though 8g) and state-owned submerged lands
2012 proposed Federal wind energy lease area (green blocks) is far offshore, but transmission line carrying electricity to the mainland would run though 8g) and state-owned submerged lands
Source: Department of the Interior - Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Map of the Area Proposed for Leasing in the Virginia Proposed Sale Notice (PSN)

In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced plans for leasing a 112,799-acre parcel on the OCS for commercial wind power. The proposed lease area stretched from 23.5-36.6 nautical miles east of Virginia Beach, but any transmission line carrying electricity to the mainland would run though 8g) and state-owned submerged lands. Under the proposed terms of the Atlantic Wind One (ATLW1) sale, the winner of the lease would have to pay $3.00 per acre annually for the leased acreage, $70.00 per statute mile for the transmission line, and an annual operating fee based on the amount of electricity generated.16

The value of oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf could be much larger - or could be zero. Hydrocarbons may exist in sediments as much as 7.5 miles thick that have accumulated on the OCS after Pangea broke up and the Atlantic Ocean formed. The crust underneath the OCS near Virginia may be a Grenville-age remnant of the original North American continent (Laurentia), the basement of island arcs that acceted onto the continent as the Iapetus Ocean closed, or a chunk of crust broken off from Africa as the continents split.17

Whatever its origin, the crust thinned and tilted down as the Atlantic Ocean widened, providing the platform for accumulating a wedge of sediment that extends from the Fall Line to the Continental Slope. Within that wedge, there are multiple basins and faults, potentially creating hydrocarbons traps large enough to justify the development of an offshore oil/gas field and development onshore of supporting infreastructure.

Wells drilled onshore in the Middle Atlantic states have failed to identify enough oil or gas to justify further development, but offshore potential is still unclear. The 2007-2012 Final Environmental Impact Statement noted:18

A series of deep, sediment-filled troughs and basins... lie beneath the continental shelf and slope and contain sedimentary deposits varying in thickness from 6.4 to 12.1 km (4 to 7.5 miles). Sediments have accumulated in a generally stable, subsiding tectonic environment and have undergone little deformation...

The Baltimore Canyon, a major basin feature of the mid-Atlantic Continental Shelf, is an elongated northeast-trending depression averaging 161 km (100 miles) in width, with a sediment thickness exceeding 12,192 m (40,000 feet). Several wells have been drilled in the trough, and five of eight wells drilled on a large structure discovered large but uneconomic quantities of gas. One well on this structure tested a small amount of light oil.

Most of the kerogen that has been analyzed is terrestrial in origin, indicating most of the generated hydrocarbons would be gas rather than oil. Presumably, the potential for oil increases seaward where the proportion of algal, oil-prone kerogen could be expected to increase...

Seismic studies indicate that a carbonate reef-platform complex exists below the slope... This reef complex begins in the northern Gulf of Mexico and extends, intermittently, along the Atlantic Continental Margin... The intermingling of the carbonate reef with black shales present in the North Atlantic Basin would appear to present an ideal situation for the formation of structural, petroleum-bearing traps.

After the US Congress failed to extend the moratorium on oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic Coast in 2009, in 2010 the Obama Administration scheduled the sale of an oil and gas lease off Virginia, as part of the 2007-2012 leasing plan. However, the Department of the Interior cancelled Sale 220 after the British Petroleum well blowout in Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

chemosynthetic bacteria feed on methane seeping from the ocean floor near Norfolk Canyon, providing the foundation for a food chain including Bathymodiolus mussels and spider crabs one mile deep in the ocean
chemosynthetic bacteria feed on methane seeping from the ocean floor near Norfolk Canyon, providing the foundation for a food chain including Bathymodiolus mussels and spider crabs one mile deep in the ocean
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS) "Science Features" - Life in the Abyss

In preparation for a future lease after cancelling Sale 220, the Federal government explored the seafloor of the OCS through the Deepwater Atlantic Canyons project. About 90 miles east of Virginia Beach near Norfolk Canyon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) documented 17 methane seeps, places where hydrocarbons trapped underneath sediments on the OCS escape to the surface. In contrast to the volcanic "black smoker" plumes that spew hot fluids at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the OCS seeps off the Virginia/Carolina coasts are emitting "cold" methane at the temperature of seawater at the site.19

The plumes of detectable methane rose over 1/2 mile high in the water. Carbon trapped in the seafloor suggests that the seeps have been in existence for over 2 million years. Mats of chemosynthetic benthic communities on the seafloor rely upon the hydrogen sulfide and/or methane venting into the ocean, and do not require sunlight to survive. In addition, various species of cold-water corals were discovered on the walls of the deepwater canyons cutting into the eastern edge of the continental shelf.20

Any development of the hydrocarbon resources on the OCS will be regulated by the Federal government. Federal laws will require mitigation of environmental impacts wherever the seafloor is disturbed, and allocate royalties from offshore oil and gas leases. Military considerations could severely constrain where hydrocarbons could be developed off the Virginia coastline. The Department of Defense has commented upon proposed Atlantic Ocean leases, mapping areas on the OCS according to four categories of objection/acceptance:21

  1. Unrestricted: No DoD-requested restrictions on oil and gas infrastructure or related activities. However, DoD requests early and prior coordination if oil and gas activity is contemplated in these areas.
  2. Site Specific Stipulations: Areas where, with specific stipulations, above-surface oil and gas infrastructure may be feasible. Examples of currently used stipulations include: "hold harmless" provisions; electromagnetic emission controls; site evacuation protocols; location pre-coordination; density limitations; and planned periods of lease operations...
  3. No Permanent Oil & Gas Surface Structures: Areas where subsurface oil and gas infrastructure may be compatible; e.g., where scheduled temporary surface activities from a drillship or moveable platform are pre-coordinated with DoD and subsurface and seabed infrastructure remains in place.
  4. No Oil and Gas Activity: Areas where any oil and gas development infrastructure and activity would jeopardize DoD operations.

Department of Defense comments on suitability for leasing OCS tracts vs. military operation concerns
Department of Defense comments on suitability for leasing OCS tracts vs. military operation concerns
Source: Department of Defense - Report on the compatibility of Department of Defense (DoD) activities with oil and gas resource development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) (2010)

If Congress passes legislation requiring the Federal government to share revenues from OCS hydrocarbon leases with coastal states - Virginia's two Democratic senators and the Republican Representative from the Second District (including all of Virginia's Atlantic Ocean shoreline) proposed sharing 37.5 percent in 2013 - then Federal administrative boundaries for the OCS would affect how much Virginia receives in royalties.22

Federal OCS lands assigned to different states (as of 2010), potentially affecting how much in royalties might be provided to each state from oil/gas revenues
Federal OCS lands assigned to different states (as of 2010), potentially affecting
how much in royalties might be provided to each state from oil/gas revenues
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries

The 2013 legislative proposal would modify the way the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in the Department of the Interior has projected administrative boundaries into the Atlantic Ocean. In 2006, a predecessor to the BOEM defined Administrative Boundaries extending from the Submerged Lands Act Boundary seaward to the Limit of the United States Outer Continental Shelf. The projected boundaries define planning areas, and the portion of each planning area allocated to coastal states.

The projection of administrative boundaries was based on the National Baseline, extending eastward from the mean lower low water (MLLW) mark. The lines were not extended in a straight line from the state boundaries on the coastline. Instead, the Federal agency used the principle of equidistance, so every point on the line is equidistant from the nearest points on the baseline. As a result, Virginia's share of the planning area pinched out in a narrow triangle.23

The senators proposed the Federal agency must revise the map of the Mid-Atlantic planning area, so each state's share of the leasable area would be directly proportional to its length of the "Tidal Shoreline" of the Mid-Atlantic States.

Tidal Shoreline includes the Chesapeake Bay, while General Coastline measures just the mileage along the Atlantic Ocean
Tidal Shoreline includes the Chesapeake Bay, while General Coastline measures just the mileage along the Atlantic Ocean
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The coastline of the United States (1975)

Revising the boundaries lines for OCS planning areas to reflect the percentage of Tidal Shoreline would reduce the portion of the planning area assigned to other states, and expand the portion assigned to Virginia. Expanded acreage assigned to Virginia would expand Virginia's share of revenues from offshore oil and gas leases - assuming commercial levels of hydrocarbons are developed, and assuming Congress determined that revenues from Atlantic Ocean leases would be shared with coastal states. By using "Tidal Shoreline" (including Chesapeake Bay shoreline) as the metric rather than the principal of equidistance, Virginia's share of the 80-million acre Mid-Atlantic Planning Area would increase from 7% to 32%. (If "General Coastline" mileage had been used rather than "Tidal Shoreline," Virginia's share would increase to 24%.)24

Virginia has 5.8 million acres in the Mid-Atlantic Planning Area
Virginia has 5.8 million acres in the Mid-Atlantic Planning Area
Source: American Birding Association, The Question of East Coast Pelagic Boundaries

In addition to energy resources, offshore sediments may be mined for heavy metals such as titanium. A high percentages of ilmenite, a titanium-rich mineral, has been found in Coastal Plain sediments and in samples dredged from the shelf off the coast of Virginia. The original source for the titanium is the igneous and metamorphic crystalline bedrock of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont. Through erosion, particles of sediment were carried by rivers to the shoreline, where wave action concentrated the heavy titanium particles on the beach. The Old Hickory placer deposit in Sussex and Dinwiddie counties, mined by Iluka Resources since 1997, marks the location of an ancient beach when sea level was higher. Offshore placer deposits near Hog Island, Smith Island, Virginia Beach, and False Cape indicate where titanium-rich sands were concentrated when sea level was lower, or by ocean currents in the last 18,000 years after sea level began to rise again.25

cold methane seeps, emerging at the temperature of the seawater one mile deep, are located off the New Jersey and Virginia coasts
"cold" methane seeps, emerging at the temperature of the seawater one mile deep, are located off the New Jersey and Virginia coasts
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA explorers discover deepwater gas seeps off U.S. Atlantic coast (December 19, 2012)

For the moment, however, the most valuable offshore mineral resource being utilized is sand, simple sand. Beach replenishment projects for Virginia Beach (including Sandbridge) rely upon Federal offshore sand, mined from locations beyond the 3-mile boundary.26

mining sand within Sandbridge Shoal lease area, outside the 3 nautical mile limit, is authorized by a Federal agency
mining sand within Sandbridge Shoal lease area, outside the 3 nautical mile limit, is authorized by a Federal agency
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Draft Environmental Assessment, Sandbridge Beach Erosion Control, And Hurricane Protection Project, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Links

boundaries of proposed oil and gas lease sales (Sale 220 was cancelled after 2010 BP well blowout in Gulf of Mexico)
boundaries of proposed oil and gas lease sales (Sale 220 was cancelled after 2010 BP well blowout in Gulf of Mexico)"
Source: Department of the Interior, Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy

disposal sites on Outer Continental Shelf off Virginias coast, permitted by EPA
disposal sites on Outer Continental Shelf off Virginias coast, permitted by EPA
Source: Environmental Protection Agency, Mid-Atlantic Permitted Ocean Disposal Sites

after dredging Rudee Inlet, the Corps of Engineers deposits sand 500 feet from shore so it replenishes the beach
after dredging Rudee Inlet, the Corps of Engineers deposits sand 500 feet from shore so it replenishes the beach
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, USACE vessel Currituck dredges Rudee Inlet
sand pumped onshore from a dredge via pipeline is spread by bulldozer to reshape the beach
sand pumped onshore from a dredge via pipeline
is spread by bulldozer to reshape the beach
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers,
Virginia Beach Hurricane Protection Beach Renourishment Project

References

1. Catherine Schuur Duncan, John A. Goff, James A. Austin Jr., Craig S. Fulthorpe, "Tracking the last sea-level cycle: seafloor morphology and shallow stratigraphy of the latest Quaternary New Jersey middle continental shelf," Marine Geology, Vol. 170 Issues 3-4 (November 15, 2000), p.399, p.414, http://www.ig.utexas.edu/people/staff/goff/abstracts/Duncan_NJ_corridor.pdf (last checked August 13, 2012)
2. Wm. Jack Hranicky, Prehistoric Projectile Points Found Along the Atlantic Coastal Plain, Universal-Publishers, 2011, p.94, http://books.google.com/books?id=GnoIxg-A1msC&pg=PA94; Wm. Jack Hranicky, "The Virginia Cinmar Bipoint" in Bipoints Before Clovis, http://www.bipoints.com/5.html; "The Cinmar Discovery," Gwynn's Island Museum, http://gwynnsislandmuseum.org/pre_exhibit.html#Cinmar (last checked July 10, 2013)
3. Hobbs, C. H. 2004. "Geological history of Chesapeake Bay, USA," Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 23, Issues 5-6, (March 2004), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2003.08.003, pp.658 (last checked July 28, 2012)
4. "Chapter III - Affected Environment," Final Environmental Impact Statement - 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, April 2007, pp.III 219-221, http://www.boemre.gov/5-year/2007-2012FEIS/Chapter3AffectedEnvironment.pdf (last checked July 27, 2012)
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U.S. Continental Shelf Boundary areas do not extend 200 miles off the southeast coast of Florida
U.S. Continental Shelf Boundary areas (limit of U.S. jurisdiction for offshore mineral development) do not extend 200 miles off the southeast coast of Florida
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, CSB Bathy Map


Boundaries and Charters of Virginia
Virginia and Submerged Lands
Barrier Islands
Chesapeake Bay Geology and Sea Level Rise
Oil Resources in Virginia
Regions of Virginia
Virginia Places