COLUMBUS (TDB) -- Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature last year formally enacted a ban that forbids offshore drilling for oil and gas in Lake Erie. But now there's a push led by President Bush and GOP lawmakers in Washington -- including John Boehner, R-08 and Jean Schmidt, R-02 -- to lift restrictions that have closed coastal sites to drillers. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has noted Canadians are already drilling on their side of Lake Erie, and that Ohio's portion has an estimated 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are off-limits by law. There is no estimate available on the oil reserves offshore. Drilling has been forbidden in the lake because of environmental and commercial concern -- Lake Erie supplies fresh drinking water for millions and supports a billion dollar-plus tourism, recreation and sports fishing industry. Still, there are energy resources locked up beneath its surface. The 2001 geological material is available here, and says:
"The Ohio portion of Lake Erie's central basin [the area nearest Cleveland] could produce about 20 billion cubic feet of gas a day . . . which is about 20% of the gas currently produced by Ohio's onshore fields and about 2% of the state's annual consumption."
That's natural gas -- the fuel widely used to heat homes. State officials have long agreed that the gas isn't worth the environmental risks, and the formalized that consensus last year without a single dissenting vote. Gov. Ted Strickland signed the measure, which was in the 2007 budget bill. Inquiring minds are wondering: If Congress opens offshore lands to exploration, will Lake Erie eventually be tapped, and will the rigs and wells become a fact of life off America's North Coast?