Utilities want bans on drilling eliminated
Lake Erie said to hold 20-year supply
By Jim Provance
Published September 22, 2005
COLUMBUS - Ohio's major natural gas utilities yesterday
asked Ohio lawmakers to urge Congress to lift their bans
on drilling under the Great Lakes, in Alaska wildlife
preserves, and along the coastlines.
The utilities warned that Ohioans are in store for sticker
shock with their heating bills, particularly if a harsh
winter rapidly drains reserves stocked at lower prices
over the last few months.
Columbia Gas, serving 1.4 million Ohioans in 64 counties,
has raised its rates 32 percent since October, 2004.
"High natural gas prices will only come down and
stay down when significant new gas supplies are brought
to market," Columbia Gas President Jack Partridge
told the House Public Utilities Committee. "This
means opening up for exploration and production lands
that are currently off limits. This is a politically unpopular
option, but the only realistic option in the long run."
Even as late September temperatures climbed into the
80s, the committee is holding a series of hearings on
natural gas supplies and price spikes. The utilities,
however, said the real battle must be waged at the federal
Meanwhile, lawmakers and Gov. Bob Taft are considering
using some of roughly $600 million in surplus federal
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds not earmarked
for other purposes to expand assistance to low-income
families in paying home heating bills.
"Today in Ohio a mother of two children who is working
full-time earning the minimum wage of just $5.15 an hour,
which hasn't been raised since 1997, is living at 57 percent
of the federal poverty level and earning less than $11,000
per year," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director
of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.
"This mother cannot afford the forecasted price
for home heat," she said.
Mr. Taft issued an executive order in 2003 that reinforced
the state's ban on drilling on Ohio's side of Lake Erie.
Congress extended the ban permanently for all of the Great
Lakes in the recently passed energy policy bill.
Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the governor remains
opposed to Lake Erie drilling.
"It would require legislative action to change that
law and, at this point, there's no proposal to do that,"
Rep. John Hagan (R., Alliance), the committee's chairman,
said he supports Lake Erie drilling, believing it can
be done without endangering the environment or recreation.
"If we didn't have the will to open our Ohio public
lands to drilling, would a message from us to Congress
saying you guys need to back off on your restrictions
on Lake Erie mean anything?" he asked. "I think
the first thing we need to look at is whether or not we
open some of our public lands to drilling. There's certainly
lots of reserves there also."
Mr. Partridge said an estimated 1 trillion thousand-cubic-feet
of natural gas, enough to potential serve Ohio for 20
years, is under Lake Erie.
Jim Lynch, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural
Resources, said the state has been in on discussions about
opening up state-owned park or forest land to drilling.
"We're not opposed to drilling, but we want to make
sure there isn't a negative impact on the environment
and recreation," he said. "If the circumstances
were right, it might be something we would consider."
Some drilling that was under way prior to the state taking
over the land has been allowed to continue, but Mr. Lynch
said there's no procedure in place to approve additional
drilling on public land.
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