opposes Erie gas drilling
Lisa Grace Marr
The Hamilton Spectator
The Ontario government is being roundly
criticized by Americans and an opposition critic for its
tolerance of the drilling for gas on Lake Erie and the harm
they say is being caused to the environment.
Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives approved
legislation that would ban drilling off of its shores. The
move in Michigan is significant because it was the last
Great Lakes state to issue a ban; all other Great Lakes
states as well as the U.S. federal government have issued
moratoriums on drilling.
As it approved the legislation, the Michigan House approved
a resolution to encourage Canada to end offshore drilling
on its side of Lake Erie.
Then late last week The Hamilton Spectator obtained a
report by the Ohio Public Research Interest Group, which
gives a blistering description of the Canadian experience
with drilling, accusing the Ontario government of lax
monitoring systems, poor data keeping and a history of
Today, MPP and NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley
is calling for a moratorium on drilling for new gas wells
and storing gas under the lakebed until it is studied
Ontario Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer could not
be reached for comment on the issue due to the death of
her father Friday.
The issue over whether or not to drill for gas on the
Great Lakes has been percolating in the United States
for more than a year, while it has drawn scant attention
Part of that may be due to Ontario's long experience
with the issue.
Drilling for natural gas in Lake Erie began more than
75 years ago. Today there are about 550 active wells and
miles of pipelines. Drilling for gas takes place in two
ways, vertically, from a barge on the lake deep into the
lakebed or horizontally, from land underneath the lake
into the reservoir.
Here in Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources is
the regulatory body for the industry, but the Ministry
of the Environment receives reports of significant spills
to its action centre.
Last fall, the Natural Resources Ministry said it would
allow the storage of gas in depleted wells under the lake,
but analysts say it's unlikely to happen soon due to economic
Talisman Energy has a monopoly on the Great Lakes gas
industry, and it's a small industry at that. Local production
only makes up about 2 per cent of consumption in Ontario,
but it's a $100 million business, employing about 1,300,
and creating spin-off jobs.
But the Ohio group argues that the economic benefits
of drilling for gas are far outweighed by the sizable
tourism and recreational industries in Ohio. It was that
argument that pushed Ohio Governor Bob Taft to reaffirm
a ban on drilling on Ohio's south shore last fall. Other
Great Lakes States imposed a ban years ago.
Churley said she didn't realize drilling for gas was
taking place on Lake Erie until last year when a Michigan
state representative called her and asked for her help.
"It's Ontario's dirty little secret," she said. "I tried
to research the issue and when I did try with (government
ministries), I couldn't find hardly anything. I think
we should join the Americans in their study (of gas drilling)
or Ontario should do its own."
Churley was alarmed at the lack of available information,
particularly between 1995 and 2000, about the industry
and its impact on the environment.
"My sense is that everything about drilling for gas on
the Great Lakes is being kept secret."
Dirty Drilling, The Threat of Oil and Gas Drilling in
Lake Erie, expressed similar concerns. The authors investigated
the Canadian experience with drilling as part of their
attempt to persuade Ohio to issue a permanent and binding
ban on Lake Erie gas drilling.
Bryan Clark, lead author of the report, cited difficulties
in finding data, noting that only spills data from 1990
to 1995 was made available to them and that Canada's National
Pollutant Release Inventory expressly excludes oil and
gas drilling operations from reporting. He also noted
that there is no data regarding the quantity or extent
of toxic chemical release from natural gas drilling.
Other key findings include:
* There were 51 natural gas spills directly associated
with gas drilling in Canada's portion of Lake Erie between
1997 and 2001.
* There were 83 petroleum spills from a variety of sources
between 1990 and 1995, and only 45 per cent of the spill's
contaminants were cleaned up, on average.
* The long-term discharge of drilling waste in Canada's
portion of Lake Erie represents a significant environmental
hazard and poses health risks for fish and wildlife.
Rudy Rybansky, chief engineer of the Petroleum Resources
Centre of the Ministry of Natural Resources said Saturday
he was aware of the report but didn't want to comment
until he had a chance to review the report.
However, in an earlier interview, Rybansky said there
have been no significant single environmental disasters
in the industry's lengthy history, and he did not believe
natural gas leaks pose a hazard to the environment.
But Clark disagrees.
"Canadian drilling has been far from problem-free. In
point of fact, drilling in Canada's portion of Lake Erie
has been an accident-ridden and understudied source of
pollution," he said.
OPIRG's report is at www.Ohiopirg.org