Finding common ground in the Gulf

It isn’t just technical issues that complicate things as American companies move closer to Mexican territory in the deep waters of the Gulf.

The legal issues can get dicey, too.

“It’s a very controversial issue, especially in Mexico,” said Richard McLaughlin, a professor of marine policy and law at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

A research project launched by the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law at the University of Houston Law Center will attempt to find common ground.

Earlier treaties established boundaries where each country could drill, and the two countries agreed in February to jointly develop reservoirs that straddle their maritime border.

But that agreement left many details unsettled, said Steve Zamora, a law professor at UH and director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law.

For one thing, the industry and regulatory environments in the two countries are wildly different. Private companies compete for leases in the United States; in Mexico, the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, operates as a monopoly.

McLaughlin said the Mexican constitution prohibits foreign companies from exploiting any Mexican resource, complicating efforts by any U.S. company to work with Mexico to manage the oil and gas resources along the countries’ shared marine boundaries.

“Even if both countries know where they’re going to drill, there still are considerable regulatory and safety issues that ought to be addressed,” Zamora said. “What the U.S. might do in terms of drilling will have repercussions in Mexico.”

And vice versa. “The bottom line is, the Gulf will have enhanced protections because one country won’t be able to point the finger at the other,” he said.

McLaughlin and Miriam Grunstein, a law professor at CIDE (Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas) University in Mexico City, will serve as co-directors of the project.

McLaughlin said the work will begin by looking at how other countries have dealt with similar issues.

Ultimately, he said, experts from both Mexico and the United States will work together to find solutions.

People from industry will “absolutely” be involved in finding solutions, as well, he said.