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Great Lakes Article:

Preserving the Great Lakes from drilling

01/25/2002
Macomb Daily

Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and state House and Senate Republicans say drilling for gas and oil beneath the Great Lakes is not worth the risk.

The issue: A state Senate task force recommends further study before allowing drilling under the lakes.

Our view: We welcome bipartisan Senate support for concerns over pollution of Michigan waterways.

The political process works best when elected officials realize there's strong public support for an important issue, such as protecting our state's waterways.

Since this is an election year, there surely will be plenty of environmental champions lining up to protect and preserve our environment.

The big issue here is directional drilling under the Great Lakes.

The controversial process has been debated all the way to Congress, where a call for new drilling has been placed in a holding pattern, thanks to legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

But lobbyists for directional drilling will not give up putting pressure on Gov. John Engler to lift a moratorium on drilling permits that he installed after taking office 11 years ago.

Though Engler remains insistent that directional drilling has proved to be a safe process, Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and state House and Senate Republicans say drilling for gas and oil beneath the Great Lakes is not worth the risk, and they want Congress to retain the ban on new drilling permits.

State Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville, chairman of the Senate's Great Lakes Conservation Task Force that recently released an 81-page report, said the task force listed concerns of residents who attended the eight public hearings held throughout the state. They are most concerned about sewage overflows, the threatened ecosystem in the Great Lakes, repeated beach closings and the large amount of water withdrawn from the lakes that threatens the quality and quantity of our drinking water. There is also great

concern over the drilling for oil and gas along the Great Lakes, including shallow Lake St. Clair.

Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow, R-Port Huron, and state Sen. Ken DeBeaussart, D-Mount Clemens, said the task force report, titled "Action Plan to Protect the Great Lakes," has strong bipartisan support.

"I live on these lakes. I am committed to this report," DeGrow said.

President Bush signed legislation on Nov. 14 that imposes a 2-year moratorium on federal and state governments' leasing mineral or drilling rights in or around the Great Lakes.

The secretary of the Army was instructed to conduct and submit to Congress a report assessing known and potential effects of oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes.

The state task force said the risk of contamination to the Great Lakes is relatively small, but drilling would pose a greater impact on shoreline environments and other shoreline uses.

The task force said, "The people of Michigan live, work, recreate and care passionately about the Great Lakes and the natural resources of the state and want the state to play an important leadership role."

While recommendations raised by the task force may be stalled for a while because of the nation's economic downturn, Sikkema said some results can be achieved through basic education.

We wholeheartedly agree.

The task force's pledge for cleaner waterways reassures our county, which has seen its share of beach closings since 1994 because of high levels of E. coli bacteria contaminants, that the state cares about our waterways.

Citing 14 of the state's most polluted waterways, the task force said Macomb County's Clinton River is one of the "areas of concern," pointing to its heavy pollution from metals, PCBs, pesticides and other chemical compounds from various industries and municipal waste water treatment plants.

Recommendations outlined in the task force report reaffirm what Macomb County's Water Quality Board has know for years. Our waterways remain threatened, and further directional drilling for oil and gas under the Great Lakes requires more study before approval can be considered.

The task force said, "The Great Lakes have sustained us and our way of life for many generations, and we have not always shown them the respect and care they deserve."

Delaying protection of our waterways today will only triple cleanup costs tomorrow. And that might be too late.

We welcome the visionary conclusions of the task force report.

A good cause is a just cause.

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