Now that the transfer of submerged lands in the Northern Mariana Islands from the federal government to the Commonwealth has begun, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take action on the transfer of oil, gas, and other mineral rights to the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Territorial Submerged Lands Act, which Sablan had amended to include the Northern Mariana Islands, requires the Secretary to convey to the Commonwealth “all right, title, and interest of the United States in deposits of oil, gas, and other minerals in the submerged lands.” Sablan made a formal request for the transfer by letter to the Secretary last week.
“The original Territorial Submerged Lands Act of 1974 kept the right to oil, gas, and mineral deposits in federal hands,” Sablan explained. “But Congressmen Philip Burton, along with George Miller, Nick Rahall, and others had the law amended in 1980, requiring that Interior turn over those rights to the territories.
“Now that ownership of submerged lands is transferred to the Northern Marianas, the Secretary is, likewise, required to make a formal conveyance of those mineral rights to the Commonwealth government.
“I just want to make sure that happens.”
Sablan was successful at establishing Commonwealth ownership of submerged lands in the Northern Mariana Islands with enactment of U.S. Public Law 113-34 in September 2013. President Obama decided last week to use his authority under the Territorial Submerged Lands Act to hold on to lands in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and around military leases on Tinian and Farallon de Medinilla temporarily. Obama’s proclamation conditions transfer of those areas to agreements with the Commonwealth government on protection of natural resources in the Monument and of military training offshore the military leases.
In addition to reminding Jewell of the responsibility to transfer oil, gas, and mineral rights, Sablan also asked for an accounting of any existing leases or permits that the federal government may have issued in areas now owned by the Commonwealth.
“I am not aware of any such leases or grants,” Sablan wrote. But, if there are any leases, he asked for Jewell’s “confirmation that the proceeds, as they accrue, will now be conveyed to the Commonwealth.”
Making sure that payments from any existing leases of oil, gas, or minerals in a territory’s submerged lands would go to the people of the territory was also part of the amendment that Burton and Miller enacted in 1980. (Office of the Delegate)