How deep into the earth do national borders go? Are there laws governing this?

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12 Responses to Question

  1. According to our government, anything under a piece of property belongs to the owner (to my understanding)…I would imagine the same goes for the nation…so, is China property of the USA since it’s in the ground beneath us? 😉

  2. Dwight Ball says:

    Mining regulations date back to the General Mining Act of 1872 when the government encouraged wholesale raping of the country in search of resources. Companies were given carte blanche to go onto federal land, dig up and take what they could. It was a different time. The country was growing and needed all the resources it could get. Very few of those laws have been changed or even modified since the 1800’s. Some states have managed to control strip mining but it appears that any attempts to regulate or control mining runs into very powerful political interests. In Canada there are still areas where a licensed mining company that has reason to believe there are minerals on your property can start digging up your backyard. I don’t think that can happen here, but who would have thought a Mercedes dealer could get a 50 year old restaurant condemned so he could build a bigger parking lot?

  3. Jeremy says:

    If you look on the CIA world factobook site it says that most countries observe that maritime rights generally extend to 200M or “the depth of exploitation”. So, I’d guess that similar reasoning would hold up with any deep drilling. Basically, the country’s borders extend to the “depth of exploitation.”

    Sub-question: How deep does individual property ownership extend? If 1) I own land and 2) my digging doesn’t violate and local or state zoning ordinances regarding utilities and 3) it’s physically possible to do this – does my property ownership allow me to dig to the Earth’s core?

  4. Brad Roehrenbeck says:

    Under the common-law, the rule was “Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos” – or “To whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and to the depths”. So you own everything below and above your property. Below and above the ground, as a general rule, it’s yours. However, things like easements, zoning laws, subdivision controls, etc. get in the way.

  5. Brad Roehrenbeck says:


    In 1926, as the airline industry began to develop, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act. It declared everything within “navigable air space” to be a public highway. The US government took ‘complete and exclusive national sovereignty in the air space’ over this country. 49 U.S.C. 176(a), 49 U.S.C.A. 176(a). Navigable airspace is basically as low as a plane can safely fly (500-1,000 feet).

    Later, the US Supreme Court took away more of the property above your house. In US v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946), the Court (Justice Douglas) declared:

    “The airspace, apart from the immediate reaches above the land, is part of the public domain. We need not determine at this time what those precise limits are. Flights over private land are not a taking, unless they are so low and so frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land.”

    Basically, you own as much airspace as you can occupy or use.

  6. Brad Roehrenbeck says:


    As for national borders – At the 1944 International Civil Aviation Conference, 54 countries gathered to determine the effect of national borders on the airspace above. Under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation (signed by 52 of those states), each state has sovereignty over the airspace directly above its territory.

    Interestingly, no treaty has ever been developed to draw a line between national sovereignty and outer space.

  7. Brad Roehrenbeck says:


    Finally, the actual question. In general, you own the land all the way from your property to the earth’s core. So, if you have a square piece of land, your property is shaped like an upside down four-sided pyramid. At least one state (Kentucky) has declared that the owner of a coal deposit has the rights to all of the coal in that deposit, even if it extends under your land. But that is an exception to the rule. Generally, if it’s under your house, and you (or a previous owner) hasn’t given it away or sold it, it’s yours.

    The same rule applies to national sovereignty. Each nation owns the land all the way from its borders to the earths core. Again, if the county is square-shaped, the country is in actuality shaped like an upside-down four-sided pyramid below ground with the point being at the earths core.

  8. Brad Roehrenbeck says:

    A VERY interesting factoid. When negotiations were taking place in the 1990s over the West Bank, the principle of vertical sovereignty was developed under a proposal by the Israelis whereby the Palestinians and Israel would actually split sovereignty over Temple mount vertically. The Palestinians would have vertical sovereignty from the sky to the ground and the Israelis would have sovereignty from the ground to the center of the earth. The proposal was flatly rejected by the Palestinians. I dont know much about those negotiations, but its interesting.

  9. jb says:

    Wow. Where did you find the info on the vertical sovereignty agreement in Israel?

  10. Brad Roehrenbeck says:

    jb – Google “vertical sovereignty” or “subterranean sovereignty” and you should find plenty of information. Also, search on google scholar and you’ll get lots of good stuff. And I was a little off above – those talks took place at Camp David in July 2000. I assumed 90s earlier because I knew Clinton was involved. Like I said, I really don’t know a whole lot about those negotiations-I just remembered hearing about that proposal in law school.

    And sorry for all the separate posts above. I wrote it in Word and it got long (sorry) and it wouldn’t let me paste it all over.

    Also, part III probably shouldn’t be headed “Common Law Eroded” since the common law hasn’t really eroded that much as to property below the ground.

    I love topics like this. And the fan one is good too. Way to go Derek.

  11. Brad Roehrenbeck says:


  12. El Gray says:

    See also: Montgomery Burns’ Slant-Drilling Operation, “The Simpsons”, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Part 1.

    It’s not real or anything, I just wanted to mention Mr. Burns.

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