In the United States the offshore energy industry is regulated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). Archaeological sites in federal waters fall under the protection of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (as amended), and subsequent laws and regulations have further defined the role of marine archaeologists in survey, permitting, and offshore operations. In 2005, BOEMRE established the strongest NTL to date regulating the manner in which marine archaeological surveys and assessments in the Gulf of Mexico Region were to be conducted. The United States, however, is not alone in regulating the offshore industry, or in providing regulations to protect submerged cultural resources.

In 2001 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) enacted the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. This international convention was ratified and entered into effect in January, 2009. At present, 36 countries have signed the Convention, including countries in the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America, and former Soviet states. The UNESCO Convention paired with local regulations in oil and gas regions around the world is of significance when designing geophysical surveys in remote regions. The impact of the UNESCO Convention when paired with local regulations is at present an unstudied and largely unknown issue for the offshore energy industry.


Submerged cultural heritage encompasses more than shipwrecks and lost aircraft. It includes now submerged cities and other human landscapes, many of which include structures, buildings, artifacts, and human remains. It includes human habitation sites dating from prehistoric periods. These sites are non renewable resources. Archaeology is the scientific discipline that explores, describes, and defines the natural and historic context of these elements of the human landscape. Underwater archaeology, nautical archaeology, and maritime archaeology are all terms to describe areas of focus in archaeology conducted in the seas, lakes and rivers of the world.

The research for this paper led to a confirmation of two things I have learned over the course of more than 25 years of practicing archaeology. The first is that with marine archaeology/nautical archaeology/underwater archaeology, everything is more difficult than practicing this discipline in a terrestrial environment. If the archaeologist is interpreting remote sensing data, the learning curve is high in familiarizing oneself with the rapid advances in technology and the vagaries of feature interpretation. When archaeology is mixed with law, the setting becomes considerably more complicated. The adoption of international conventions related to the Law of the Sea and the protection of underwater cultural heritage has produced a wealth of publications and opinions thereby making cultural resources protection its own branch of law on a global scale.

This paper provides a synopsis of the legislation around the world that impacts the offshore industry from a marine archaeological perspective, and provides resources for further information. The impact of current regulations in the United States, international conventions, and local laws are of particular importance when working in a region with poorly understood or studied submerged cultural resources.

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