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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

Stabenow: BP spill shows need to guard Great Lakes

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said yesterday the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows why Congress should never reconsider the ban it imposed against expanded drilling in the Great Lakes 10 years ago.

Enacted as a temporary measure in 2000, the federal ban was made permanent in 2005. Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Wisconsin have bans in place at the state level.

But in a conference call with reporters from the shores of Lake Michigan while traveling through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Ms. Stabenow acknowledged that nothing in life - especially in the world of politics - is necessarily permanent.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told a Detroit audience in 2001 that the Great Lakes can never be considered totally off limits, even after President George W. Bush had vowed not to expand the limited drilling beneath them. Mr. Cheney's comments were made not long after Michigan Gov. John Engler had considered issuing more land-based leases for drilling beneath Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

During the 2008 presidential election, Republican hopeful U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, emerged from a convention in which "Drill, Baby, Drill" had become its mantra. Delegates had claimed no place was off limits, though a McCain spokesman later told The Blade that the candidate's focus was the Outer Continental Shelf - not the Great Lakes.

Then, on March 31, President Obama stunned members of his own Democratic Party by reversing a long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling from the Arctic coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and much of the Atlantic coast.

Those plans are on hold, pending the outcome of the BP disaster, Ms. Stabenow said.

She said that "in everything from mining to Wall Street," the last decade's efforts to loosen regulatory oversight have backfired.

The Gulf of Mexico is the latest casualty, she said.

"It is really a call to action not only to us to get off foreign oil but also oil as a form of energy," Ms. Stabenow said.

The Great Lakes hold 90 percent of the fresh surface water in the United States and 20 percent worldwide.

About 475 wells in Canada extract natural gas from the north side of Lake Erie between Port Alma, Ont., and Port Colburne, Ont. At least five wells have extracted oil from under the lake bed near Leamington, Ont.

Canadian drillers have placed some 2,500 wells beneath Lake Erie since 1913, although most large-scale activity didn't begin until the 1960s.

Michigan is the only place where drilling has taken place in recent years on the U.S. side. Three shoreline wells in Manistee County extract natural gas from eastern Lake Michigan and two shoreline wells in Bay County extract gas beneath the western side of Lake Huron.

Barring any problems, Ms. Stabenow said she is OK with the phasing out of Michigan wells as their leases expire.

And while not demanding a specific commitment from Canada, she said it is time for the Obama Administration to begin negotiating an end to drilling from America's neighbor to the north.

Ms. Stabenow said the gulf spill "does raise a very important question that our country needs to be asking the Canadians right now."

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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