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Great Lakes Article:

Drilling ban on Great Lakes takes effect
Governor didn't sign bill, saying practice is safe
Amy Franklin
Associated Press
Posted 10/09/2002

A law banning new gas and oil drilling under Michigan's portion of the Great Lakes took effect Friday without the signature of Gov. John Engler, who said the bill was motivated by politics.

Engler opposed the measure because he believes drilling can be done safely. But he said he allowed the bill to become law to keep it from being an issue in this year's gubernatorial election. Engler can't run for re-election because of term limits.

"No candidate for governor should be able to run for office claiming that they will sign this measure and be given credit by the public for having an environmental policy for Michigan's future," Engler said.

Almost every candidate running to replace Engler - including GOP Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, a close ally of the governor - says they're against more drilling. Only Republican businessman Ed Hamilton wants more drilling.

The Michigan Constitution allows a new law to take effect if it hasn't been signed or vetoed by the governor within 14 days. The Legislature sent Engler the bill after it received overwhelming support in both chambers.

Engler said the ban on new drilling is based on flawed policy, adding that directional drilling - or drilling under the lakes from Michigan's shoreline - has been done safely since the 1970s.

But Brian Imus, campaign director for the environmental group PIRGIM, said the chemicals used in the directional drilling process are harmful to the shoreline and nearby residents.

Chemicals, including mercury, lead and arsenic, are used when a new well is dug into the shoreline, he said.

"Toxic chemicals are used in the drilling process that damage ecosystems along the shoreline," Imus said.

State Rep. Scott Shackleton, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law allows Michigan to keep the Great Lakes clean.

"One of our greatest responsibilities in this state is being a steward for our environment," the Sault Ste. Marie Republican said. "This shows that we have the desire and ability to determine the correct future for the Great Lakes."

The law permanently bans the state from issuing new leases to drill under the Great Lakes, extending the federal ban on such drilling, which is set to expire in 2003.

While Engler said he disagreed with the bill in a three-page letter to the Michigan House, he said that state government is the correct place to make such a decision. He called the federal ban "unwarranted congressional interference."

The state law doesn't affect the seven wells already operating from the Michigan shoreline. Thirteen wells have been dug since the late 1970s, but several are no longer used.

The state Department of Natural Resources will return the six applications for leases it has received since it decided last year to resume issuing leases after a three-year moratorium, department spokesman Brad Wurfel said.

Engler also told the House that he's worried the ban will hurt the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is used by state and local governments to preserve open space and develop public parks.

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