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Coastal Drilling Update: Will Congress Enact a Ban?

A congressional ban forseen

December 1, 1999 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Increasing public opposition and tightened state restrictions have kept the energy industry from expanding efforts to extract oil and gas from under the Great Lakes. Yet new shoreline wells could be drilled at any time until the state or the federal government permanently ban directional drilling beneath the Lakes.

Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), who made his opposition to the practice a centerpiece of his successful re-election campaign, has authored a bill banning it that has attracted 15 co-sponsors from six Great Lakes states.

The state Department of Natural Resources, meanwhile, is conducting a review of state leasing policy, which currently allows energy companies to pay for the rights to drill into oil and gas deposits under the Lakes.

Last spring, after coming under widespread criticism for leasing acreage along the coast of Manistee, the DNR placed a moratorium on leasing Great Lakes bottomlands. The review, which is expected some time this year, could either end further leasing of Great Lakes minerals or propose a revamped policy.

While the debate on these initiatives continues, Newstar Energy, which acquired the rights to 200 acres of Great Lakes bottomlands before the moratorium went into effect, could at any time file for up to two new drilling permits.

Department of Environmental Quality officials responsible for granting or denying well permits said they would take extra precautions to make sure any new applications meet the current permitting standards. Those include an expanded 1,500 foot setback from the water's edge, but do not rule out the possibility of issuing the permits. State records indicate that since 1979 a total of thirteen Great Lakes wells have been drilled, two of them by Newstar in 1997.

Last summer the Institute held public meetings in Muskegon and Manistee on Great Lakes drilling that attracted more than 200 people and widespread press coverage. The Institute called for an indefinite moratorium on leasing and drilling until a comprehensive planning process was established to protect the Lakes and the coastline.

Since the state has not responded to this recommendation and is showing no signs of doing so, the Institute has joined other prominent citizens groups like the Michigan Environmental Council and West Michigan Environmental Action Council in supporting an all-out ban on Great Lakes drilling.


CONTACTS: Mindy Koch, DNR Real Estate Division, 517-373-1246; Hal Fitch, DEQ Geological Survey Division, 517-334-6923; Julie Stoneman, Michigan Environmental Council, 517-487-9539; Hans Voss at the Institute, 616-882-4723.

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