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Friday, March 23, 2007

Strickland Draws Line In The Sandstone: Wants Lake Erie Oil And Gas Wells Banned By Law

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- Offshore oil and gas drilling in Lake Erie would be banned by law under an obscure 35-word clause tucked deep in Gov. Ted Strickland's budget bill. There are an estimated 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas locked up in rocky formations beneath Ohio's portion of the lake. Strickland would declare it permanently off-limits like a Midwest version of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and put preservation of an environmentally sensitive area ahead of energy development.

[UPDATE: Buckeye State Blog has followed up with more on the the Lake Erie drilling ban. Says the guv's move is a win for state Demo Chair Chris Redfern and Ohio Environmental Council's Jack Shaner, who long have pushed for such a measure, and PIRG, too.]

State officials estimate the reserves under Lake Erie equal all the gas available to drillers onshore across Ohio. Ontario has approved about 550 gas wells in its portion of Lake Erie. In the late 1990s, Lake Erie accounted for about 70% of Ontario's total gas production. The Canadian province collects about $4 million in royalties each year, and the gas is worth more than $40 million on commercial markets when sold to heat homes and businesses.

Lake Erie is in the Appalachian Basin, an oil and gas field that is among the most productive in the world. There was a gas well drilled into the lake in 1913 from winter ice -- the first attempt to extract natural resources. Modern offshore wells went into production on the Canadian side in the 1960s. Ohioans, however, have feared that risks from spills and accidents outweigh the value of any energy supplies Mother Nature has hidden beneath the waves. Lake Erie provides drinking water for millions of Ohioans, and supports huge tourism and recreation industries that employ thousands. Any damage would be a monumental catastrophe.

An analysis of the budget bill by the Legislative Services Commission says:

Ban on taking or removal of oil or natural gas from and under Lake Erie
(R.C. 1505.07). Current law authorizes the Director of Natural Resources, with the approval of the Director of Environmental Protection, the Attorney General, and the Governor, and subject to certain requirements, to issue permits and make leases to parties applying for permission to take and remove sand, gravel, stone, and other minerals or substances from and under the bed of Lake Erie, either on a rental or royalty basis, as the Director of Natural Resources determines to be best for the state. The bill creates an exception to that authority by prohibiting the Director of Natural Resources from issuing any permit or making any lease to take or remove oil or natural gas from and under the bed of Lake Erie.

The actual language from the bill eliminates a 1950s measure that allowed drilling. It said state officials could "issue permits and make leases to parties making application for permission to take and remove sand, gravel, stone, and other minerals or substances from and under the bed of Lake Erie, either upon a royalty or rental basis, as he the director of natural resources determines to be best for the state. Permits shall be issued for terms of not less than one year nor more than ten years, and leases shall be for a term of years or until the economic extraction of the mineral or other substance covered thereby has been completed. Such taking and removal shall be within certain fixed boundaries that do not conflict with the rights of littoral owners. Upon request from the holder of a permit, it shall be canceled, but in the case of any permit or lease, any equipment or buildings owned by the permittee or lessee shall be held as security by the director of natural resources for payment of all rentals or royalties due the state at the time of cancellation."

But the ban says: "(B) The director of natural resources shall not issue any permit or make any lease under division (A) of this section to take or remove oil or natural gas from and under the bed of Lake Erie."

Pho's Akron Pages has links to the entire budget bill and the legislative analysis, and they are searchable by agency or key word. In 2001, former Republican Gov. Bob Taft issued an executive order that blocked any drilling. He acted after his Department of Natural Resources presented a study to the oil and gas industry predicting that Lake Erie could supply vast amounts of natural gas. The report suggested energy royalties would pump up the state's treasury with millions in new income. Taft's executive order expired when he left office in January.

A 2001 report by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, who favored opening the lake to exploration, is HERE , and it contends the risks environmental risks are minimal. The geologists said there would be no offshore platforms or derricks blocking the scenery. Still, they were in a minority when it came to tapping Ohio's most precious natural resource.


  1. bill --

    i led the lobbying and research efforts of ohio pirg in the fight against oil and gas drilling in and under lake erie. chris redfern introduced the original bill and has fought for the issue since then. it's definitely a win for redfern.

  2. Bryan --

    I didn't know about Redfern. But it is a very important development. I wrote about this in the past in my PD days, and it always was a stir when there was a move to drill or search for oil and gas. I think the measure has pretty broad bipartisan support -- many Republicans don't want drilling in Lake Erie. But there is concern, as you know, about locking up resources when energy supplies are growing tight and expensive. I passed my item along to some reporters. But I don't know how much interest there was.