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Great Lakes Article:

Lake drilling sparks heated argument

Mansfield News Journal Statehouse Bureau

COLUMBUS -- A bill banning oil and gas drilling in Lake Erie sparked angry words Wednesday between House Minority Leader Chris Redfern and Rep. Jim Aslanides, R-Coshocton.

The measure, identical to one introduced by Redfern last session, mirrors an executive order being drafted by Gov. Bob Taft that would permanently prohibit drilling in the Lake.

Redfern, D-Catawba Island, said drilling's potential harm to the state's tourist industry and shoreline communities' drinking supply outweighs any potential gain from oil and natural gas drilling

"I just don't believe we should look to Lake Erie to quench our insatiable thirst for resources," he said.

Aslanides, who owns an oil and gas company, took exception with Redfern's arguments, implying the Democratic leader was exaggerating risks seen in Canadian drilling operations and confusing oil drilling research with natural gas studies.

"Some people have the perception or fear of drilling, and we need to make sure the facts are accurate," Aslanides said. "Let's stay with the facts and make this a policy question, not a political one."

That drew an angry response from Redfern, who chided Aslanides for the perceived personal attack and said he "need not be lectured by anyone" in the Statehouse about differences between politics and policy.

Other Republicans at Wednesday's hearing also expressed concern with the measure, saying it limits potentially valuable resources for the state.

Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, said he supports the idea of a ban, but only if an exception can be made if a national emergency arises.

Redfern dismissed that idea, saying the expense and complexity of building the infrastructure to drill makes the Lake an impractical short-term solution.

"And I don't know what kind of national security need would risk the drinking water of millions of Americans," he said. "A ban is the right step."

Environmental groups have pushed for a ban -- either from the governor or legislature -- for several years, insisting that drilling and pipeline spills could cause irreparable hard to the lake's ecosystem.

Last month the state's Department of Natural Resources announced they would support a permanent ban as well.

Redfern said his bill has bipartisan support -- which he credits in part to the governor's impending executive order -- but he still expects resistance from some members of the House.

Aslanides said he will excuse himself if the measure comes up for a vote, because of his ties in the industry.


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