Thanks to the bipartisan intervention of Ohio and Michigan lawmakers, it appears that the U.S. moratorium against drilling for natural gas underneath the Great Lakes will be extended for another two years, through Oct. 1, 2007.
Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow say that they expect President Bush to sign an appropriations bill that calls for a two-year extension of the drilling ban.
However, appropriations bills do not allow permanent bans, and lawmakers in both states should work toward passage of a permanent ban on drilling for gas under the lakes, which hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water supply and provide water for 33 million residents of the basin as well as tourism and recreation opportunities for millions more.
Despite the unique nature of this great reservoir, which has existed in its present form for about 12,000 years, industrial and agricultural activities and the thirst for growth and development in the Great Lakes basin have often degraded portions of the lakes, which are more fragile than people realize. As Senator Voinovich noted, the lakes have "made an incredible comeback" and must be protected from more drilling.
Ironically, there is drilling on the Ontario side of the lakes, despite the fact that Canadian authorities often have been critical of withdrawal of water from the Great Lakes as well as pollution on the U.S. side of the lakes and claim that they are better custodians of the lakes than their American counterparts.
Michigan also has allowed some slant drilling, and under former Gov. John Engler gave thought to issuing more permits for slant drilling. However, the moratorium put an end to that misconceived idea.
Interestingly enough, Vice President Cheney who has never met an oil-drilling project that he disliked, hinted that the Great Lakes should be explored for this purpose. But his boss, President Bush, has stated that drilling in the Great Lakes "was never a part of our plan."
Gov. Bob Taft has strongly opposed any Great Lakes drilling, and Ohio has had a moratorium on such activity for 30 years. This region, rich in lakes of all sizes, must guard this resource unflinchingly. Even the Great Lakes are subject to great fluctuation, and despite their size, water levels can rise or drop within the span of a few decades. As the western and southern states mine glacial aquifers and apportion the water in their rivers for municipal and agricultural use, the Great Lakes continue to be the hallmark of our region and an oasis of plenty in a world that has been all too careless in its use and misuse of a precious and finite resource.