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Great Lakes Article:

Gas lobby dismisses Lake Erie criticisms

Stories by Lisa Grace Marr
The Hamilton Spectator
An Ontario gas and oil industry representative says an American report criticizing Canada's experience with drilling for gas on Lake Erie is highly exaggerated. "They've drastically overstated the problem," said Steve Fletcher, of the Ontario Petroleum Institute, based in London.

Fletcher was responding to specific examples in a report released late last week by the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG). The report, entitled Dirty Drilling, accused the federal and provincial governments here of failing to adequately monitor the industry's "accident-prone" activities on the lake. It also pointed to a lack of information or research about the impact.

Canadian government officials dismiss the concerns, saying the industry has a safe and lengthy record here.

Fletcher points out that the industry is worth about $100 million and hundreds of jobs.

But the OPIRG report said that's a small price to pay for clean drinking water and the multi-million dollar tourism industry -- which it claims is at risk from toxic chemicals and the damage to the environment from drilling.

The report follows last week's call by Michigan for Canada to place a moratorium on gas drilling. The issue is getting wide debate in Great Lakes states, but little attention here. Last week Michigan joined other Great Lakes states and the U.S. government, ordering a moratorium on drilling.

The Ohio report raises questions about toxic chemicals released into the water and air from drilling and their risk to fish and wildlife.

"(Drill debris) literally buries anything below the platform, once it's dumped overboard, it buries things that may not seem important like bacteria or insects that are in fact food for other organisms," said Bryan Clark, the report author.

But Fletcher said the amount of debris mentioned in the report cited quantities of so-called drill cuttings found when drilling in oceans, not the shallow lakebed of eastern Lake Erie.

"How much you pull up depends on how deep you drill down," said Fletcher. "You can't go as deep down as (in oceans). They've taken a truth about drilling in oceans and applied it here."

And the report's mention about lack of data or studies on the environmental impacts of drilling on Lake Erie does not concern Fletcher.

"Nobody is hiding anything. We as an industry are saying we want to promote this industry that we do well. "From our perspective, (the report) is a good thing. There are big leaps of faith in the report. Ultimately you have to look at our record and offer that to the public."

But Clark and others say getting that record is extremely difficult. Clark agrees that the amount of drilling cuttings (mud/rock and debris) cited in the report are only estimates because the hard data was not made available to his researchers.

"I didn't get a lot of co-operation on getting this information. We are careful in saying this is an estimate."

Clark said report findings that there were 51 leaks from gas wells in Lake Erie between 1997 and 2001 didn't come from the Ministry of Natural Resources, which regulates the industry, or the Ministry of the Environment, which receives reports of spills, but the Canadian Coast Guard.

"We included that figure because these leaks were so significant they were posted on the notice to mariners. Mariners were being told to avoid these areas," said Clark.

Clark stands by his report, and hopes that it raises the issue for debate here in Canada.

"There are problems in the industry. Ultimately, the Canadian and U.S. governments have not taken adequate steps to study the environmental impacts of drilling on Lake Erie."

Natural Resources minister John Snobelen did not return Spectator messages yesterday.

MPP and NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley yesterday called for a moratorium on drilling for gas and storing gas in depleted wells on Lake Erie until further study.

Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem/Accord Canada-Ontario concernant

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