This paper examines the international and U.S. legal frameworks that apply to ocean alkalinity enhancement. While there are currently no international or U.S. laws dealing specifically with ocean alkalinity enhancement, various general environmental and other laws could apply to the practice.
At the international level, the most directly applicable instruments are the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (“London Convention”), and the Protocol to that Convention (“London Protocol”). Both instruments regulate the dumping of materials into ocean waters and could apply to ocean alkalinity enhancement projects involving the discharge of alkaline rocks. Assuming that is the case, projects occurring under the jurisdiction of a party to the London Convention or London Protocol would have to be permitted by that party, in accordance with the terms of those instruments. The London Convention gives parties broad authority to permit projects, provided they do not use certain, prohibited substances listed in the Convention. The London Protocol is more restrictive, however. Parties to the London Protocol likely could not permit ocean alkalinity enhancement projects. As well as the London Convention and Protocol, several other international and regional instruments could also apply to ocean alkalinity enhancement, depending on exactly how and where it occurs. Examples include the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, the Basel Convention, and European Union Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Various principles of customary international law, including the so-called “no harm” rule, could also apply.
Potentially applicable U.S. laws include the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Clean Water Act. The application of these laws will depend on, among other factors, the offshore location of any ocean alkalinity enhancement project, the materials and technology used in the project, and whether the project makes use of the sea floor. None of the laws expressly prohibit ocean alkalinity enhancement, but several impose permitting and other requirements, which could make project development more difficult or costly. Projects may also be subject federal and state requirements to consult with Native American tribes and other stakeholders.