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
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
"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
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
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