Academics & Research

UH Law aids Mexico, US collaboration

As U.S. differs with Mexico over oil and gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico, the UH Law Center has stepped into the mix to help the countries compromise and implement a cooperative treaty.

UH’s Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, in collaboration with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, ­is participating in a binational research project to help analyze and recommend changes to domestic and international laws governing shared oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our research center explores well-defined research projects that deal with issues arising out of Mexican laws and legal institutions,” said Stephen Zamora, executive director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, in an email.

“We try to identify issues that have not been studied in depth by independent research agencies, so that we can make a contribution to the understanding of Mexican and U.S. laws that affect our nation. This Gulf of Mexico project is a perfect example of that.”

Maritime boundaries between the U.S. and Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico are not clearly defined, Zamora said.

“The United States has a Gulf of Mexico coastline; Mexico has a Gulf of Mexico coastline,” Zamora said in an interview with KUHF News. “However, in the center of the Gulf of Mexico is an area referred to colloquially as the donut hole, which is an area which the United States and Mexico have not agreed exactly how the resources in that area should be divided.”

“For that reason, neither the U.S. nor Mexico has felt comfortable exploiting the oil and gas resources in that area.”

Under the Western Gap Boundary Treaty of 2000, U.S. and Mexico negotiated offshore boundaries to help ensure the equal division of oil and gas resources and both countries limited the production around these boundaries.

Under the treaty in development, the countries have expanded their maritime boundaries in order to drill for more hydrocarbon resources.

Legal issues between the two nations extended beyond boundary lines. General ecosystem conservation practices of U.S. and Mexico prove to be widely divergent.

As recent as late February, the two nations have decided to set up a collaborative relationship in hopes of developing strong environmental protection strategies.

“The hope is that, if we implement this treaty, the two nations will work more cooperatively together in both developing oil and gas but also in environmental protection and other kinds of policies in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Richard McLaughlin, endowed chair for Marine Policy and Law at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

“What this treaty does is that it basically puts in place the framework so that Pemex (a Mexican oil and gas company) can begin the process of at least negotiating with American companies or companies that are doing business within the United States to share those resources.”

The project, expected to last up to three years, is still in its first phase, and the Law Center is in the process of selecting about four law students to help with initial research.

“There’s going to have to be quite a bit of study done of what we need to do here in the United States to move this process forward,” McLaughlin said.

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