Walberg considers Great Lakes drilling as option
By Nick Schirripa
The Battle Creek Enquirer
Published June 1, 2007
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, hinted last week the United States could further reduce its dependence on foreign oil by drilling in the Great Lakes, going a step further than legislation introduced earlier this month by federal lawmakers seeking to allow offshore drilling.
The proposed federal bill would allow some new offshore drilling as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. But while addressing a group of Lansing-area constituents last week, Walberg said oil reserves under the Great Lakes also could be tapped in an effort to help decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
In the face of criticism from some Democrats and questions about his statements, Walberg, a member of the Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, appeared to back off Great Lakes drilling on Thursday.
"With gas quickly approaching $4 per gallon, I believe we need to get serious as a country about increasing domestic energy production in an environmentally sensitive manner and with local community support, such as ANWR in Alaska," he said. "The policy must be tied with increased use of American alternative energy sources."
Walberg said he takes seriously preserving, protecting and restoring the Great Lakes, citing his work on issues including ballast water, invasive species, pollution and sewer leakage, but in a statement Thursday — prepared in response to questions about his drilling comments — he did not address drilling for oil or natural gas.
Michigan already has seven offshore wells and 13,165 inland wells in production. Of the Great Lakes wells, four draw natural gas and one draws oil from under Lake Michigan in Manistee County. Two gas wells are in the Saginaw Bay.
Michigan's inland production — from 4,196 oil wells and 8,969 natural gas wells — yields 4 percent of the oil and 28 percent of the natural gas used by state residents, and state environmental officials estimate another 30 wells could be drilled in the Great Lakes.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, has long opposed drilling for oil and gas in and under the Great Lakes, and he was a key player in a permanent federal ban in 2005 on new drilling for oil and gas.
"The very small amount of potential natural gas or oil that drilling experts think is under the Great Lakes does not justify risking contaminating our lakes, which supply drinking water to 45 million Americans," Stupak said.
Other Michigan GOP members of Congress also don't appear to support Walberg's Great Lakes drilling idea.
"Rep. Ehlers has consistently opposed drilling for gas or oil in the Great Lakes and would not support any proposal to lift the current ban because of the profound environmental risk involved in such activities," said Kevan Chapman, communications director for U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids.
Nick Schirripa can be reached at 966-0692 or email@example.com.