The Eldorado effect: reappraising the “Oil Factor” in maritime boundary disputes
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Where overlapping claims to maritime jurisdiction exist, suggestions that the disputed zone is ‘oil rich’ frequently follow. Accordingly, the potential existence of seabed energy resources underlying ocean spaces subject to overlapping claims to maritime jurisdiction often plays an important role in maritime boundary disputes. Of course other valuable marine resources, most obviously fisheries, are often also at stake. However, the possible presence of oil seems to provide a particularly compelling lure. The perception that such resources exist and that a State’s vital national interests are therefore engaged, can serve as a powerful factor motivating policy-makers to robustly defend territorial and maritime claims. While it can be argued that the suspected presence of valuable seabed hydrocarbons resources can act as a spur to dispute settlement such that the interested parties can gain access to such resources as soon as possible, all too frequently the opposite effect can be observed. That is, the essential willingness to compromise in order to reach an agreed solution tends to be undermined by concerns that to do so will leave crucial seabed energy resources on the ‘wrong side of the line’ as it were.
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