Washington D.C. – The Territorial Submerged Lands Act did not require transfer of mineral rights to the islands until 1980, when Congressmen Phil Burton, George Miller, Nick Rahall and others amended it.
Until then, the Federal government retained those rights.
The change required the Interior Secretary to turn over mineral rights with the submerged lands.
HEAR Matt Kaye’s report HERE>>>01-23 sablanmineral rights.mp3
CNMI Congressman Greg Kilili Sablan has now asked Secretary Sally Jewell to formally transfer oil, gas and other mineral rights to the CNMI, with those lands already approved for transfer.
President Obama last week withheld transfer of submerged lands around five CNMI islands, pending management agreements with the Commonwealth.
Lands around Aracas, Maug and Asuncion, the islands unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, will remain in federal hands, for now.
Separately, lands around U.S. Military leases on Tinian and Farallon de Medinilla will be transferred upon an agreement that “ensures protection of military training within the excepted area.”
That “military” protection, and the protection of natural resources within the monument, may mean those resources stay in Federal hands as part of any negotiated management agreements, according to the congressman’s office.
Sablan authored legislation to transfer CNMI control of its submerged lands out to 3-miles, the same as other territories and the states.
And he urged last week, transfer of the remaining areas be completed “without further undue delay.”
But the issue of possibly lucrative mineral rights must be addressed separately by the Secretary of Interior.
The amended Territorial Submerged Lands Act requires the secretary to convey to the Commonwealth, “all right, title and interest of the U.S. in deposits of oil, gas and other minerals in the submerged lands.”
Sablan made a formal written request to Secretary Jewell last week, to “make sure” the transfer happens.
The Congressman also asked for an accounting of any existing leases or permits the U.S. may have issued in areas now owned by the Commonwealth.
Sablan says he’s not aware of any, but if there are, he asked Jewell that the proceeds also be conveyed to the Northern Marianas, another requirement of the Burton-Miller-Rahall amendments of 1980.