First oil company interestedPhillips secures a permit

Norway declares sovereignty over continental shelf

person Norwegian Petroleum Museum
After receiving the licence application from Phillips, the Norwegian government had to clarify who had jurisdiction over the seabed off the Norwegian coast. This issue became increasingly urgent as more oil companies began to make contact.
© Norsk Oljemuseum

A continental shelf convention had been drawn up during the first Geneva conference on the law of the sea in 1958. This gave a coastal state exclusive jurisdiction over exploration on and exploitation of the seabed off its shores, while the overlying seas were to remain open to all.

According to the convention, the limits of the continental shelf are:

The seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast but outside the area of the territorial sea, to a depth of 200 metres or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas.

In Norway’s case, applying this definition was complicated by the submarine valley known as the Norwegian Trench. This runs just off the country’s North Sea coast and is considerably deeper than 200 metres. But the government saw no reason to make much of an issue out of this when considering the extent of the Norwegian continental shelf.

Instead, the legal department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose to emphasise that, although Norway’s rights to the continental shelf accorded with the general principles of international law, they ought to be enshrined in a royal decree. Issued on 31 May 1963, this officially declared Norwegian sovereignty over the continental shelf.

The ministry presented a Bill on the same day which was passed by the Storting (parliament) on 14 June. This Act applied to “exploration for and exploitation of submarine natural resources in the seabed or in its subsoil, as far as the depth of the superjacent waters admits exploitation of natural resources … but not beyond the median line in relation to other states.”

According to the Act, the right to submarine natural resources was vested in the state. The King could give Norwegian or foreign persons and companies the right to explore for or exploit natural resources.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Hanisch, Tore Jørgen and Nerheim, Gunnar, Norsk oljehistorie, volume I, 1992: 18-21.

With these legal provisions in hand, Norway could begin negotiations with the other countries around the North Sea basin on a final division of the area’s whole continental shelf.


First oil company interestedPhillips secures a permit
Published 22. May 2019   •   Updated 22. May 2019
© Norsk Oljemuseum
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