The British Embassy to the Department of State

His Majesty’s Embassy present their compliments to the State Department and have the honour to invite their co-operation in the following matter.

Considerable interest has been displayed in recent years by oil companies in the possibility of finding oil in the shallow waters surrounding certain parts of the United States and certain islands in the British West Indies. The interest of these companies relates not merely to the sea bed within territorial waters but to those adjacent parts of the shallow sea bed beyond which are capable of being used for the exploration and exploitation of oil resources. Difficult questions may therefore arise in connection with the safe and orderly development of these oil resources and in measures to ensure that other legitimate enterprises, such as sponge fishing and local navigation, should not suffer as a result of oil drilling operations beneath the surface of the sea.
This problem has been under consideration by His Majesty’s Government in relation to the shallow waters around the Bahamas [Page 1524] and the Turks and Caicos Islands and it appears that the circumstances are broadly similar to those which exist off certain coasts of the United States as, for example, in the Gulf of Mexico and around Florida. In all such cases it would appear desirable to endeavour to secure the safe and orderly development of any oil resources which may exist beyond but adjacent to territorial waters. If foreign persons or companies were to drill for oil on the shallow sea bed adjacent to United States territorial waters, United States authorities would no doubt find it objectionable if such companies were to claim that the United States Government had no right under international law to exercise jurisdiction over their operations. His Majesty’s Government would likewise object if similar claims were made by companies engaged in operations in submarine areas adjacent to territorial waters of British West Indian possessions.
His Majesty’s Embassy therefore suggest that such difficulties could be avoided if international arrangements were entered into whereby all jurisdiction over oil exploration and exploitation in drillable areas beyond and adjacent to the territorial waters of the United States should be exercised by the United States Government and, reciprocally, that similar operations in drillable areas beyond and adjacent to the territorial waters of the Bahamas, and of the Turks and Caicos islands which are dependencies of Jamaica, should be exercised by the Governments of these Colonies. While such a bilateral agreement may not provide a complete safeguard against attempts on the part of nationals of other countries to explore for or develop these resources independently, the existence of the agreement would, it is felt, minimise the risk of such attempts being made. It would appear to offer the only practical basis on which the problem could be tackled with a reasonable chance of success. If necessary a similar agreement might be concluded with Cuba, the only other country with territory in the area similarly placed. It is not of course desired to exclude nationals of other countries from participation in oil development in these submarine areas so long as they are prepared to conform to the regulations which the United States Government, or the British Colonial Government concerned or Cuba would prescribe for the areas which they respectively would control.
His Majesty’s Embassy would be glad to discuss the point at issue in further detail with the competent authorities of the United States Government.