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Great Lakes Article:

Taft quietly signs Lake Erie drilling ban
By Jim Siegel
Chillicothe Gazette
08/20/03


COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft in July signed an executive order banning all gas and oil drilling in Lake Erie for the remainder of his term -- but he didn't tell anybody about it.

Fulfilling a promise he made months earlier, Taft signed the order on July 14. He released no public statement and did not contact those pushing for the ban.

Why keep the signing a secret and miss out on praises from environmental groups? His spokesman insists there was no intentional effort to keep it quiet.

"He announced publicly he was going to put together and sign an executive order banning drilling in Lake Erie," Orest Holubec said. "And he followed through on what he said he would do."

Bryan Clark, conservation program coordinator for the Ohio Sierra Club, has pushed hard for a drilling ban and just found out about the executive order this week.

Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, was attending an unrelated event this week and was questioned about when Taft would sign the drilling ban. Much to the surprise of the media in attendance, he said Taft had already signed it.

"Not everything becomes a publicity issue," Holubec said. "It's something the governor said he would do, and he did it. It doesn't mean he feels less strongly about it."

Ohio House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Cawtaba Island, who has sponsored a bill to put the drilling ban into state law, was surprised to hear Taft kept the signing to himself.

"That guy sneezes and he puts out a press advisory," he said. "I would think this is something he would be proud of."

Regardless of how it was done, Clark was delighted Taft followed through on his promise.

"We feel this is the kind of protection Lake Erie needs," he said.

Although the ban will stay in effect only until Taft's term ends on Dec. 31, 2006, Clark thinks it sets precedent for Taft's successors.

"Future governors will find it very difficult to explain why he or she chose not to continue this precedent set by a moderate Republican governor," he said.

Ban supporters are concerned that drilling could pollute the lake and disrupt the scenic conditions that contribute $2.5 billion a year in travel and tourism revenue to Ohio's economy.

But Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, has argued that natural gas exploration is safe, and Lake Erie has had no environmental disasters from previous drilling.

He has said any ban on drilling is keeping Ohio residents from access to more affordable natural gas supplies just off shore, he said.

Michigan passed legislation last year to prohibit all petroleum and natural gas drilling in its portion of the Great Lakes. Pennsylvania has not formally banned drilling in Lake Erie, but none has taken place since the 1970s.

New York prohibits exploration and development of oil under Lakes Erie and Ontario; it allows some limited gas drilling under Lake Erie and has considered a ban.

"Not everything becomes a publicity issue. It's something the governor said he would do, and he did it. It doesn't mean he feels less strongly about it."


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