Taft signs executive order banning drilling under Lake Erie

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft has signed an executive order banning drilling for oil or gas under the Ohio waters of Lake Erie.

Taft has been under pressure to act from environmental groups concerned that the activity could begin after a federal ban on drilling in the Great Lakes expires in September 2005.

The governor signed the order last month without fanfare, spokesman Orest Holubec disclosed on Tuesday.

The move didn't sit well with critics who contend Ohioans need the energy and the cash the drilling would provide.

"They (Canadians) have drilled right up to the border," said Thomas Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. "They are out there today drilling in Lake Erie."

The Canadian side of Lake Erie has 550 gas-producing wells.

Stewart said Ohioans would benefit from the millions of dollars in royalties the oil and gas production would generate, and from having a large source of natural gas so close.

But Bryan M. Clark, conservation program coordinator for the Ohio Sierra Club, called the governor's action "fantastic."

"Gov. Taft has hit a home run for Ohio's environment," Clark said.

The order prohibits the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from issuing any permit, license or lease for removing oil or gas from or under the lake bed through 2006, the end of Taft's second term.

The Ohio Geological Survey estimates that the Lake Erie Ohio zone has more than 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- equal to all the state's onshore reserves.

Last year, Ohio produced 98 billion cubic feet of gas, or 11 percent of the state's needs.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)