Group Says Drilling Endangers Lake Erie

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A group supporting a ban on drilling for natural gas under Lake Erie says there were 51 natural gas spills associated with drilling in Canada's share of the waters in the past five years.

The spills came from wells and pipelines in Canada, which allows drilling beneath its part of the lake, Bryan Clark, a spokesman for Ohio Public Interest Research Group, said Thursday.

Ohio does not allow drilling, but about a year ago as gas prices increased some lawmakers began raising the idea of allowing exploratory drilling. Gov. Bob Taft is against the idea.

Supporters suggested that there may be enough natural gas under the lake to combat high heating prices -- a suggestion that alarmed environmentalists.

The 51 spills documented in the group's report should serve as a warning to anyone considering allowing drilling in the lake, Clark said.

Spills earlier in the decade killed fish and damaged vegetation in the lake, he said. Clark said the spills included in the report were documented or confirmed by regulatory agencies in Canada.

Supporters of drilling say there has been no widespread environmental damage in the lake and note that water quality has improved dramatically in the past 40 years.

"The track record in Canada has been superb," said Thomas Stewart, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association's executive vice president, who questioned why the spills cited in the report didn't cause any damage in Ohio's waters.

"There's no walls at the international border," he said.

During the last four decades, more than 2,000 wells have been drilled in Canadian waters, Stewart said.

There now are about 550 wells in the lake.

Taft for now has ruled out drilling under the lake, saying many environmental issues would need to be considered before any drilling could be approved.

Estimates from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicate that about 20 billion cubic feet of natural gas could be extracted annually from under Lake Erie's reservoirs, or about 2 percent of what Ohio uses each year.

Environmentalists say that it isn't enough to risk harming the lake.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)