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US, Mexico sign Gulf of Mexico transboundary agreement

The US and Mexico have signed an agreement allowing exploration and development of oil and gas resources along the two countries’ maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico. The accord, which still requires legislative approvals in both countries, makes US Outer Continental Shelf acreage with potentially 172 million bbl of oil and 304 bcf of gas available for leasing, US Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar said.

“This agreement removes uncertainties which have kept US operators from exploring nearly 1.5 million acres of the US [OCS],” he told reporters by teleconference from Los Cabos, Mexico, where US Sec. of State Hillary R. Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa signed the agreement. “That’s an area larger than the state of Delaware. It’s the culmination of many years of hard work and is the outgrowth of many meetings we have held in Mexico and the US the last couple of years.”

Under the agreement, US companies and Mexico’s state-run Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) can voluntarily agree to jointly develop reservoirs that cross the boundary. If a consensus can’t be reached, it provides a way for US producers and Pemex to develop resources on their respective sides while protecting each nation’s interests and resources. “No US company wanted to develop close to the transboundary because of this uncertainty,” Salazar said. “Each nation will continue sovereignty and its own regulatory system in its own territory.”

“We believe that because of the structure of this agreement, there’s a strong incentive toward voluntary unitization,” added Tommy P. Beaudreau, US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director, who also participated in the teleconference. “It was reached in consultation with both US operators and Pemex.” BOEM will offer leases along the maritime boundary will be offered for the first time at a sale scheduled for June, he said.

The agreement also provides for joint inspections of facilities developing transboundary reservoirs, as well as reviews of development plans and oil spill containment capabilities, according to Salazar. “US companies can now move forward with legal certainty which has been missing in this area,” he said.

“A significant part of the agreement is that we’re moving forward jointly with Mexico, which is beginning to move into deeper waters, to develop protocols by sharing information and helping it make sure that its development occurs as safely as possible,” the secretary continued. “Pemex has been exploring the possibility of working with Helix to use the rapid spill responsive capability it developed for the gulf.”

US President Barack Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderon committed in May 2010 to reach this agreement, which replaces an earlier accord that imposed a moratorium on both sides of the boundary through 2014. Since that time, representatives from DOI and DOS as well as Mexico’s energy and foreign ministries worked on the matter.

Salazar said that DOI will begin discussions with US Senate leaders soon to ratify the agreement promptly.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.


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