Suggestions that the nation's energy needs might be fortified by drilling for natural gas beneath the Great Lakes should be met with a clear and resounding no.
The prospect being floated in the Ohio General Assembly of tapping gas reserves in the lakebeds is far outweighed by the danger drilling poses to the primary drinking water supplies of some 35 million people who live around the lakes.
Ohio has had a moratorium against offshore drilling for oil and gas in Lake Erie for about 30 years. And in 1986, governors of the seven Great Lakes states signed a pact against drilling in any of the lakes. For the sake of public health and safety in the region, these agreements must remain in effect.
The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water, a resource recognized by hydrographic authorities as under continual threat by mankind's seemingly insatiable thirst for growth and development. To place such a resource in danger of pollution from drilling accidents would be both foolhardy and amount to abrogation of the public trust.
Prompted by increasing prices for natural gas produced elsewhere in North America, a state legislative committee is looking into the possibility of lifting the drilling ban. Such discussion is “a great leap forward,” according to an official of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which is only too eager to tap whatever might lie below the lakes.
Such exploration might make sense in the event of a true national energy crisis, but not the phony one being conjured up by President Bush and his fellow oilmen to serve as a cover for deep tax cuts for the wealthy. Just how much natural gas is down there? In Lake Erie's central basin, only about 2 percent of the amount consumed by Ohioans each year.
George Voinovich, former Ohio governor and now U.S. senator, who championed the drilling ban as a state legislator three decades ago, has sent a letter to Governor Taft saying the risk of ending the ban is great for such a small benefit. “The current energy crisis should not be viewed as a window of opportunity to undo a 30-year ban which provides so much protection to the lake and the people who depend on it,” Mr. Voinovich says. “Dealing with our long-term need to diversify energy resources means looking into clean coal technology, alternatives and renewables, and tapping petroleum and natural gas where there are much greater reserves.”
As we've come to expect from the former governor during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, his common-sense approach is right on target.
Sacrificing one natural resource for another is not a choice that either should or needs to be made at this point. And it isn't much of a substitute for a sensible national energy policy either.