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Great Lakes Article:

Congress poised to pass ban on oil drilling under Great Lakes

Article courtesy of the Associated Press
Nov. 1, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes would be banned for the next two years under an agreement poised to win approval in Congress.

The measure is aimed at stopping the state of Michigan from issuing more permits for directional drilling under the Great Lakes from sites along the shoreline.

Michigan Gov. John Engler has said the drilling can be done safely, and he strongly objected to the agreement. His spokeswoman said his administration will examine the legislation to see if they can stop it from taking effect.

" This amendment sets a terrible precedent, " Engler said in a statement. " Today, Washington wants to dictate how Michigan protects the waters of the Great Lakes. Tomorrow, Washington could well dictate who gets the water."

Republican and Democratic lawmakers from Michigan and surrounding states held a news conference Wednesday to congratulate themselves on the deal. They say an accident or leak from a well could contaminate their fresh water supply.

" The amount of oil and gas that would come out of Lake Michigan in my district would be so minimal, it is not worth the risk, " said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.

Engler will leave office at the end of next year because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, who is running to replace him, and all the Democratic candidates have spoken out against new drilling permits.

" There' s a very good likelihood that this two-year ban will get us to a permanent ban, " said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who wrote the provision into the bill.

The Great Lakes states -- New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota -- do not allow drilling from rigs on the water. Michigan is the only state that allows directional drilling to reach deposits under the lake from the shore.

Commercial natural gas drilling on the Canadian side of Lake Erie has been going on for more than 40 years, according to Ruby Rybansky, chief engineer at the Ontario government' s Petroleum Resources Centre.

Some 550 producing gas wells operate on the Canadian side of the lake, Rybansky has said. Ontario allows directional drilling between the months of April and October, when no ice or fierce winter storms prevent drilling barges from reaching the gas fields.

Michigan stopped issuing new drilling leases in 1997 as critics warned of potential damage to the lakes and shoreline residents protested, but the Michigan Natural Resources Commission voted in September to let the state resume issuing leases.

The drilling ban is part of a spending bill for energy and water projects. A House-Senate committee included the Great Lakes drilling ban in the bill, which is scheduled for a vote in both chambers this week. It is expected to win easy approval, and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., expects to be one of only a few lawmakers to vote against the provision. He says the states, not the federal government, should control the Great Lakes.

" This is a very, very dangerous precedent in terms of our ownership of the Great Lakes, " he said. " You are taking away my children' s ownership of the Great Lakes."

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill is H.R. 2311.

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