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An End to Great Lakes Drilling

A Timeline

April 5, 2002 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

May 1979 — Aztec Producing Company gains state permission to drill the first of 13 oil and natural gas wells beneath the Great Lakes. The well is slant drilled beneath Lake Michigan from an onshore site just north of Manistee. Seven wells were still producing energy by 2002, including six on the coast of Lake Michigan and one on the coast of Lake Huron.

Summer 1997 — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality confirms that it has approved two permits to Newstar Energy, a Canadian company, to tap reserves of oil and gas beneath Lake Michigan from two onshore wells.

August 12, 1997 — In the face of mounting public concern, Michigan Governor John Engler halts new energy development beneath the Great Lakes and directs the Michigan Environmental Science Board to study the risks of slant drilling.

October 1997 — The Michigan Environmental Science Board issues its findings and recommends that the state establish a more rigorous program of review for directional drilling that includes much greater public participation, more comprehensive environmental analysis, safeguarding environmentally sensitive regions, and prohibiting any new energy industry infrastructure along the coast.

October 29, 1997 — The state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality issue separate statements that promise to "move swiftly to implement the science panel’s key recommendations."

April 1998 — The Department of Natural Resources confirms that a formal moratorium on new Great Lakes drilling is in effect until the state has completed a modernization of state oil and gas leasing procedures.

February 8, 2001 — A committee of the Natural Resources Commission, the citizen oversight panel that guides policy for the Michigan DNR, announces that the agency’s staff is considering lifting the moratorium on Great Lakes drilling.

March 13, 2001 — U.S. Representative Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Menominee, introduces Congressional legislation to ban directional drilling beneath the Great Lakes. Representative David Bonior, the Democratic House minority whip from Mt. Clemens and a candidate for governor, signs on as a co-sponsor along with members of both parties from five other Great Lakes states.

March 14, 2001 — State Representative Julie Dennis (D-Muskegon) and State Senator Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) introduce legislation to permanently ban directional drilling for oil and gas beneath the Great Lakes.

May 31, 2001 — The Michigan Senate, defying growing public opposition, approves a budget bill that authorizes drilling beneath the Great Lakes.

June 5, 2001 — The city council in Grand Haven, a shoreline community, votes to ban directional drilling beneath Lake Michigan.

June 11, 2001 – State Senator Leon Stille, a Republican from Spring Lake, announces he will introduce legislation to prevent any city that bans directional drilling from receiving money from the state Natural Resources Trust Fund. The trust fund is a public account, derived from oil and gas royalties, that is used to buy open space, improve parks, and enhance recreation. Mr. Stille almost immediately recants the proposal after it attracts ridicule from constituents and editorial boards. He later becomes one of the strongest Senate proponents for a drilling ban.

June 12, 2001 — State Representative Scott Shackleton, a Republican from Sault Ste. Marie, is the first prominent GOP lawmaker to break with his party’s leadership and oppose Great Lakes drilling. Rep. Shackleton convinces House colleagues to strip from a House/Senate conference committee version of the budget bill the Senate’s May 31 provision to promote drilling.

June 13, 2001 — U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, introduces legislation to ban directional drilling in the Great Lakes until the National Academy of Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have completed studies of the risks.

June 28, 2001 — The U.S. House of Representatives, on a 265-157 vote, approves legislation to prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from reviewing and permitting new drilling beneath the Great Lakes.

July 17, 2001 — The U.S. Senate unanimously approves legislation to bar Great Lakes drilling for two years.

July 23, 2001 — Dick Posthumus, the Michigan Lieutenant Governor and leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, breaks with Gov. Engler, a close friend and political mentor, and announces he opposes any new directional drilling beneath the Great Lakes.

August 5, 2001 — In an interview with the Detroit News, President Bush says he did not propose and does not support drilling beneath the Great Lakes. "We’re not going to have Great Lakes drilling. We never proposed Great Lakes drilling," he says.

August 20, 2001 — The staff of the Michigan DNR formally recommends new procedures for opening the Great Lakes shoreline to oil and gas drilling that ignore most of the important safeguards recommended in 1997 by the Michigan Environmental Science Board.

September 12, 2001 — In a letter to K.L. Cool, the Director of the DNR, Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm calls the agency’s proposal to renew directional drilling beneath the Great Lakes "a serious mistake from a legal, policy, and fiscal perspective," and "an unwarranted risk to the lakes themselves." Ms. Granholm also is a Democratic candidate for governor.

September 14, 2001 — Following the recommendation of the Natural Resources Commission, K.L. Cool approves new leasing procedures to re-open the Great Lakes coast to directional drilling for oil and natural gas.

September 19, 2001 — Aztec Producing Company, a Manistee-based energy concern, is the first to apply for new leases to drill for oil and natural gas beneath the Great Lakes.

November 1, 2001 — The U.S. Congress approves legislation to ban directional drilling beneath the Great Lakes for two years while the Army Corps of Engineers studies safety concerns.

January 24, 2002 – The Michigan House votes, by a 98-7 margin, to permanently ban Great Lakes drilling unless the Legislature declares an "energy emergency."

February 13, 2002 – The Michigan Senate, on a 28-5 vote, approves a permanent ban on Great Lakes drilling and drops the House provision to reopen development in the event of an energy emergency.

April 5, 2002 - The permanent ban automatically takes effect after Michigan Governor John Engler refuses to sign  the legislation.  The state constitution allows a new law to take effect if it has not been signed or vetoed within 14 days of final passage. In a statement, Mr. Engler said he opposed the bill but allowed it to become law so that Great Lakes drilling would not be an issue in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.  

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