The U.S. Department of the Interior agency report estimated that 19 million barrels of oil, 244 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and six million barrels of liquid natural gas can be taken from an area below the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and St, Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The report stated that the fuel was “technically recoverable” but did not consider the economics or environmental impacts.
The estimate was based on a calculation that there is a five percent chance of the region producing 120 million barrels of oil, 1.532 billion cubic feet of gas, and 39 billion barrels of liquid gas.
The area, called the Muertos Deformed Belt Assessment Unit, “although largely uncertain and risked,” has a probability of the energy resources of greater than 10 percent.
The region had not been studied for oil and gas resource potential before, although other areas near Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin islands, and the Dominican Republic had. None of the others were judged to have recoverable oil or gas and the two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) reportedly do not.
The USGS report is entitled, “Assessment of Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico-U.S. Virgin Islands Exclusive Economic Zone.”
An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area 200 nautical miles from a coastline that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea gives a nation resource rights. It extends beyond the 12 nautical mile territorial waters of a country. A nautical mile is about 1.15 miles.
Under U.S. law, most States and territories have resource rights three miles from their coastlines. Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico have rights to resources within three marine leagues of their coasts (10.35 miles) based on law preceding the jurisdictions coming under U.S. sovereignty. A marine league is three nautical miles.
Puerto Rico’s right to resources within three marine leagues of its coastline was obtained through a Federal law sought by pro-statehood Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo after earlier reports that there might be oil off Puerto Rico’s coast but beyond the three miles of submerged lands resource rights the territory had at the time.
The portions of the Muertos area below Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, are beyond the waters of the two territories but within the EEZ of the United States.