ban on Great Lakes takes effect
Governor didn't sign bill, saying practice
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.